Hospitality Case Study: From Swim Suits To Business Suits

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By Jill Aronson-Korot
Published in the July 2002 issue of Today’s Facility Manager magazine

From the moment of its inception, the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center set out to make a statement. In fact, at 2:02 pm on February 2, 2002 (that’s 02/02/02 at 2:02), Gaylord Entertainment opened its latest and greatest creation in Kissimmee, FL.

This 2.1 million square foot, $450 million landmark, situated on 63 acres, houses 400,000 square feet of convention space and a 178,000-square foot exhibition hall. With this project and the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN, the company is expanding a national brand of convention resorts.

Corporate Branding 

Greg Hnedak, FAIA, principal and co-founder of Memphis, TN-based Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG), was the executive architect of the Gaylord Palms project. Hnedek explains the first element of this branding is the expansive atrium, which is already a signature feature of existing properties. The second major component is the way in which the geographic location of the property is reflected in the design, architecture, and atria of the properties.

Specifically, Gaylord Palms reflects Florida through representations of the nature of the Everglades, the history and Spanish influence of St. Augustine, and the tropical feeling and liveliness of Key West. These Floridian themes are carried through the 4.5 acre, glass topped atrium and are sustained throughout the 1,406 guest rooms.

Additionally, all Gaylord properties will be designed as ideal convention and meeting spaces. Everything in each facility will have a direct correlation to the purpose of the property. For example, each property will feature a separate shuttle bus entrance, so conventioneers will experience the same VIP treatment as guests of the hotel.

“More people come here than stay here, and their experience should be special, too,” says Mike Mason, vice president of sales and marketing for Gaylord Entertainment. “They shouldn’t feel as though they are missing something just because they happen to be staying at a different hotel.”

Purpose Of The Property

The architects and designers (Hnedak Bobo Group, Dallas, TX-based Vivian|Nichols, and New York, NY-based Cosentini Associates) worked in tandem to create a space that exactly fit its purpose. This was achieved by incorporating the ideas and requests gleaned from focus groups comprised of thousands of event planners. John Caparella, senior vice president and general manager of the Gaylord Palms, integrated these ideas and requests with his own experiences to devise the plan for the project. “We’ve been in the convention business for over 25 years,” says Caparella. “We know our customers. We knew who to ask, and we knew the focus groups had to be a part of this process.”

“We met with our future clients and made them partners in building a hotel that is as state-of-the-art in service as it is in design,” adds Mason.

The most important element on the planners’ lists, according to Mason, was having all meeting space conveniently located and easily navigated by attendees. A common complaint about many hotels—including the Opryland in Nashville—was that finding meeting locations was confusing, exhausting, and frustrating.

The design team responded by locating the 46,650-square-foot Osceola Ballroom and the 28,690-square-foot Sun Ballroom on the same floor; 46 of the property’s 61 breakout rooms are situated between the two ballrooms. Using a back-of-house design also facilitated the functionality of the meeting and exhibition space. The facility features 14 loading docks exclusively dedicated to exhibitors, 20′ corridors for movement of equipment between rooms, and ample storage behind the ballrooms to accommodate the needs of any sized group. Even the atria were designed in response to the requests made by the focus groups. Planners said they would like attendees to network and build relationships with one another, but they need to maintain control of where this takes place. “The atrium answers that need by providing an area large and interesting enough to keep attendees willingly captivated,” says Caparella.

“We strive to know our clients, what they do, and what they want. Each member of the Gaylord Palms team knows the others’ areas well enough to be able to provide an immediate answer to any client question and/or request,” adds Mason.

Environmental Management

The Gaylord Palms project posed specific challenges for the engineering and lighting designer, Douglas Mass, P.E., president of Cosentini Associates. Mass says his main objective for this project was to allow the architecture to work without functional interference. In respecting the architecture of the space, ducts and vents needed to be inconspicuous. Cosentini’s operational goals included:

  • functionality/reliability;
  • quality;
  • energy conservation; and
  • flexibility.

Functionality/reliability was achieved by employing multiple boilers and chillers, distributed air handling, and ample hot water capacity to include convention demand loads. (Consider what would happen if all attendees were to shower and get ready for the same convention at the same time.)

Quality was achieved by specifying state-of-the-art equipment throughout the facility. This particular installation called for Cleaver Brooks boilers, Square D bypass drives, York MaxE (formerly called Millennium) chillers, York AirPak indoor air handling units, and York CurbPak outdoor air handling units Energy conservation was achieved through a contractual building management system (BMS) with Milwaukee, WI-based Johnson Controls, Inc. The company installed fully integrated, automated systems that connect HVAC, lighting, fire, security, and access controls into one BMS.

Flexibility was needed to accommodate changes in the use of space. This was achieved with a zoned HVAC system that’s supported by electrical and data distribution via gridded floor boxes with multiple plug receptacles.

According to Mass, the atria posed the most significant challenge. “We needed to regulate the climate of a 160,000 square foot, glass covered atrium with a total volume of approximately 20 million cubic feet,” says Mass. “In an effort to maintain the goal of energy efficiency, we decided to cool only the lower, peopled, public spaces; and we let the heat stratify in the top of the atrium, where there are no people,” Mass continues.

The atria are enclosed by 1/4″ tempered, reflective, coated glass manufactured by Owatonna, MN-based Viracon. This glass was installed into an aluminum, structurally glazed curtainwall system manufactured by Chicago, IL-based Trainor Glass Co. Springfield, MO-based Loren Cook Co. exhaust fans were installed in the top of the main atrium for use in the event of fire, smoke, or excessive build up of stratified hot air.

Low areas are cooled by vents and ducts concealed within the walls and ceilings. In the middle of the atria, where there are no walls and ceilings, areas are cooled by air fountains hidden within the architecture. These structures push up cooled air and allow it to billow out and down, regulating the temperature of the peopled areas without creating noticeable drafts. In fact, during a walking tour of the completed facility, Mass had to ask one of his associates, HBG’s Barry Marshall, AIA and principal in charge of the project, where the ductwork and air fountains were hidden.

Humidity in public areas—caused by the local climate and compounded by the water elements incorporated into the atria—is controlled by the BMS as well. The system maintains positive air pressure inside the atria as a means of preventing the infiltration of hot, humid outside air.

All things considered, what could have been perceived as a daunting task was accomplished with the enthusiasm and experience of Cosentini and the rest of the team—without sacrificing the architecture.

High Tech Implementation

Inside the convention center, nearly 400 miles of copper and fiber optic cabling form the backbone of a sophisticated menu of technology services. This network is based on Cisco Systems infrastructure, edge switches, and a backbone to Cisco core router switches.

Specially designed technology was built into key phases of the property’s operations, including networking, high speed Internet access, security, amenities, and hotel/service operations. Planners’ requests for the best communications capabilities were answered with fiber optic cabling to all meeting, breakout, and exhibit areas. Category 5 and 3 (with a flexible DH3 pipe) supports requests for T1, ISDN, and T3 communications.

Security. Guest keys are magnetic stripe cards that work with a separate, stand alone lockset on each room door. Every time a new, authorized guest key is inserted, the lock disables any previously used key for that room. Keys that are not returned at check out automatically expire and will not work once a new guest has occupied the room.

Employees are issued smart cards that hold information and can be interrogated. This enables found keys to be traced to the person to whom they were issued and the card’s activity to be tracked and monitored. With the guests’ magnetic stripe cards, information is located in the lockset itself. The door locks can be activated by either the guests’ magnetic stripe cards or the employees’ smart cards.

A high tech closed circuit television (CCTV) system from Secaucus, NJ-based Panasonic Security Group is installed in strategic locations throughout the hotel and convention center to assist in maintaining personal and property safety. SimplexGrinnell integrated a completely networked fire system with security and communications features into the Johnson Controls BMS. This system is controlled from two locations: the fire command room and the security office. System components include 400 Simplex¨ pull stations, 135 detectors, 270 dual technology sensors, 1,500 Wheelock speakers, 485 Wheelock strobes, and 400 Wheelock combination speaker strobes. The Simplex¨ 4120 system is addressable, to ease trouble shooting and minimize down time. A networked printer provides hard copies of all system activity.

The Gaylord Palms uses two Simplex 4120-8321 network processing units—one in the fire command room and one in the security office. The fire command room provides full control of the system; the security office provides redundant annunciation of all system signals to this secondary location.

Tied to these units is a six node 4120-8201 network with 4120-8019 transponders. This network is located throughout the property and is capable of stand alone operation in the event of head-end failure.

There are also two graphic smoke control panels in the fire command room. While the SimplexGrinnell panel manages over 400 points of smoke control, this control is reduced to less than 30 switches on the graphic smoke control panel through matrix programming on network CPUs.

Amenities. Each guest room has a doorbell that serves multiple functions. In addition to the traditional chime to announce a visitor, the SimplexGrinnell-wired devices include displays that replace the old-fashioned do not disturb and make up room signs. These devices are also wired to INNCOM sensors that can alert housekeeping or maintenance if a room is occupied—without disturbing the occupants.

The sensors also control the in-room thermostats, bringing temperatures from guest-selected levels to more energy efficient levels when rooms are unoccupied. They automatically return to preset temperatures when guests return.

Service. Hotel employees—from front desk to engineering—all wear headsets and carry Kenwood Model TK380 and TK370 two-way radios. This maximizes the efficiency of the staff in answering/solving guest queries and minimizes radio chatter in public spaces.

All of the property’s meeting and convention space is equipped with audio and visual signal processing and a signal distribution network. A lighting network offers individual control of all meeting and pre-function zones. Built in power and an on site audiovisual department serve both ballroom and exhibition levels. Boardrooms include video and teleconferencing functionality and built in computer displays.

Intent + Aesthetics = Success 

Orlando currently features the second largest concentration of hotel rooms of any market in the United States, surpassed only by Las Vegas, NV. Consequently, the design and execution of the Gaylord Palms had to be impressive enough to draw guests from coast to coast. The property is achieving that goal by becoming the largest facility in the area to combine hotel, convention, and entertainment amenities under one roof.

“Gaylord Palms is a design and engineering marvel,” says Hnedak, “because the process was a true collaboration from the outset—one in which architectural elements were implemented not only for aesthetics, but for functional purposes as well. HBG’s process, and the applications that resulted, allowed the A/E/D team to meet the design objectives of a cost-effective, yet highly themed design, while reducing operating costs and maximizing client comfort.”

“We never lost sight of our original intention,” says Kemp Gallineau, Gaylord Palms hotel manager. “That intent was to design and build an incredible resort to host incredible meetings and conventions. We asked meeting planners what they wanted, and that’s exactly what we built. And the best part about it is all of that homework is paying off. We have received incredible feedback from both our convention planners and attendees.”

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