By Anne Vazquez
Published in the September 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
When the Hyatt Regency New Orleans unveiled its $275 million renovation in October 2011, it marked the end of a six year absence from the city’s hospitality market. Originally opened in 1976, the 32 story hotel had been a significant part of New Orleans tourism scene, and its return brought renewal not only to the facility but to the surrounding area.
The structure was ravaged when Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. Nearly all of the windows on one side of the high-rise were blown out or struck by debris during the hurricane, and as a result, there was significant water damage. In the days following, the building served as a place of refuge for many recovery crews, city officials, and medical personnel, and in December 2005, the hotel’s owners, Strategic Hotels & Resorts, Inc., decided to close down operations due to the damages sustained from the storm.
A Chat With David Fifer
Director of Engineering
Hyatt Regency New Orleans
What are your title and your responsibilities at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans? I am the director of engineering. In my position, I am responsible for overseeing the installation and maintenance of the building systems, including HVAC, electricity, and plumbing.
How long have your worked for Hyatt? How long have you worked in facility management? I have worked for Hyatt Hotels for 24 years. My experience in facilities management began in 1985, so I have been in the profession for 27 years.
During your time in the facility management profession, what is a notable development that has impacted how you do your job? The continued development and use of the microprocessor has most impacted our jobs. Equipment can help diagnose itself. This development requires a hybrid staff that can understand the nuts and bolts as well as the electronics.
Regarding this project, what is one of the most notable aspects? It is a unique undertaking to take a facility that had been dormant for nearly five years and transform it into a fully functional hotel again. Throughout, my duties included communicating with the owner’s project manager and the general contractor.
“The hotel was one of the most visual representations of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath,” says David Fifer, director of engineering at Hyatt Regency New Orleans. As ownership determined the future of the hotel, basic building systems were maintained to prevent further degradation. The location of the hotel—adjacent to the Louisiana Superdome (now the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) and about a mile from the city’s French Quarter and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center—held promise that the facility would be rejuvenated.
But before its present revitalization was decided upon, several plans had been proposed for the site. For instance, in early 2006, Strategic Hotels & Resorts, Inc. announced a plan to redevelop the area into a performance art park. This plan reached the conceptual design phase but was eventually abandoned. Some work was performed on the building during this time; for instance, 130,000 square feet of roofing was redone in late 2006.
The fate of the facility remained uncertain until Poydras Properties Hotel Holdings purchased the facility in 2007, which signaled the move to revive operations at the hotel. In February 2009, the company received $225 million in low cost Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds from the state of Louisiana to rehabilitate the hotel. Planning ensued, and in July 2010 reconstruction began.
“For five years, there was a skeleton staff working on-site to keep the basic building systems operating,” explains Fifer, a 24-year veteran of Hyatt Hotels who began working at this hotel a few months after the renovation project began. “It was a unique undertaking to take a facility that had been dormant for nearly five years and transform it into a fully functional hotel again.”
Better Than Before
There was much work to be done, and the project team’s options were wide open in terms of how to recreate the facility into a place that could accommodate guests in modern comfort and style. The interiors were designed to reflect a contemporary, welcoming aesthetic. The main lobby features marble flooring and strategically placed lighting, and a curved staircase connecting the area’s two levels adds visual impact. Beyond this main entry area, the hotel tower features an atrium that spans the height of the building.
There are 1,193 guest rooms (95 of which are suites) in the new Hyatt Regency New Orleans. As would be expected in a AAA Four Diamond hotel, room features include wireless Internet access (for purchase), 42” flat screen televisions, iHome stereo and iPod docking stations, and in-room refrigerators.
A selection of rooms is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition to all or most features found in non-ADA rooms, these spaces include closed caption television and cordless phones. Key entryways and bath, lighting, and climate control features are positioned at a lower height for ease of use, and life safety features include an additional emergency strobe light and strobe light smoke detector in each ADA room.
Beyond the guest rooms, there is a variety of spaces and services for guests to enjoy. There is an 20,000 square foot outdoor pool and sundeck, and a 24 hour fitness center on the top floor overlooks the city skyline.
An important part of the renovation plan involved the restaurants that would be included in the hotel. To a degree, the surrounding area lacked dining options. Offering a variety of cuisines and atmospheres in the hotel has made it a destination for not only guests, but other visitors and people who work in the area.
A point of pride is Borgne, a restaurant specializing in coastal Louisiana cuisine. Run by award-winning chef, John Besh, this establishment is located on the ground floor of the hotel and draws business from within the facility as well as from the street. A centerpiece of dining—one that can be viewed while riding the elevators—is the 8 Block Kitchen & Bar. Its interior design features wood, leather, and natural lighting.
The Vitascope Hall is a restaurant and bar catering to guests looking for a place to unwind in a different kind of atmosphere. Named after the world’s first for-profit movie theater built in New Orleans in 1896, this venue is a place where patrons can stay connected while relaxing. There are 42 flat screen televisions for groups or individuals to watch. And Vitascope has its own interactive mobile app that guests can download to check on food and cocktail specials, take polls on topics like pro football games and pop culture trends, and make music requests.
Expanded Focus On Events
The dining choices add to the hotel’s appeal, and these were also important because of the significance meeting and exhibit spaces have at the facility. Before its closure, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans contained about 100,000 square feet of event space, and the facility would cater to relatively small events. With an eye on increasing its stake in this business, the hotel team decided to build twice the square footage for these functions than had existed previously. Fifer explains, “Having doubled the meeting and exhibition space to 200,000 square feet, the hotel now offers the most meeting space of any hotel in the city. We have the ability to self contain events of all sizes. Distributed on four levels of the facility, there are two 25,000 square foot ballrooms, 64 flexible meeting and banquet rooms, 19 executive level meeting rooms, seven permanent boardrooms, and 80,000 square feet of exhibition space.”
A testament to the significant role these event spaces occupy is the way the hotel’s main entrance was treated in the reconstruction. The former main entrance was closed in and transformed into a new 50,000 square foot exhibit hall.
The new “face” of the hotel was relocated to the more frequently traveled Loyola Avenue, situated on another side of the hotel. A two level lobby was constructed there, serving to provide more visibility and a more attractive appearance. And, in December 2012, a one and half mile streetcar line is slated to begin operation, passing directly past the hotel’s new main entrance.
Speedy, Secure Service
Catering to hotel guests includes providing convenience and security, and the elevator system is one aspect that helps Fifer and other facilities staff deliver these. To speed travel to guest rooms, the hotel specified a system featuring destination dispatch technology. Suited for facilities with elevator banks, this technology reduces waiting times and energy use by guiding passengers with same or close destinations to the same elevator. Using keypads outside the elevators, passengers type in which floor they are traveling to, and the elevator system responds accordingly.
This project took it one step further by integrating guest room key cards and the elevator system. As is usual in a hotel that uses key cards, room keys are encoded with the guest room floor destination as soon as the guest checks in. The integration of these two systems allows guests to swipe the same card to summon an elevator.
With the expectation of increased foot traffic throughout the facility due to conventions and other events, the hotel team decided to add another layer of security to its room keys. Fifer explains, “After hours, we can restrict access to the guest floors to those who have an active key. Others can only access the public area floors. We can also restrict access to a given floor to only the guests who have a room on that floor. This function is used for groups requiring an exclusive environment.”
In evaluating this approach—for both convenience and security, the hotel worked with Bruce Barbre, principal of Barbre Consulting, Inc, a vertical transportation consulting firm located in The Woodlands, TX.
Describing his initial assessment of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans project, Barbre says, “At the start, the Hyatt team assumed it would use a traditional card reader system for guest room entry. Once we researched the option of integrating this access control into the elevator cards, I knew it would be a perfect fit for the project.”
He continues, “In addition to the elevator system’s advanced algorithm and inherent ability to handle large numbers of people, the equipment has a sleek look that enhances the hotel image. This access control system interface works seamlessly with the hotel’s access control system, providing hotel guests with a single means to access the elevators and their room.”
Next, taking into consideration the additional people who would be traveling through the facility during meetings and other events, Barbre says, “The hotel was faced with a huge task of handling and distributing a massive number of people exiting an exhibition hall in a very short period of time. After numerous traffic studies, I was convinced the only way to handle this type of population movement was by using a destination based elevator system.”
Commenting on this approach for the hospitality market in general, Barbre says, “Facilities should investigate the type of media cards available in the marketplace and the associated costs per card. They should also be sure to set aside ample time to have the chosen elevator contractor and building access control system company coordinate software protocols needed between the two different control systems.”
This October, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans will mark its first year back in business. Ongoing developments are expected to boost operations further as the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission and New Orleans Downtown Development District carry out a several year plan to revitalize the central business area. This hotel is in a position to host larger events than it had been in the past, which holds promise for the Hyatt and the city overall.
This article was based on project literature provided by Hyatt Regency New Orleans and interviews with Barbre and Fifer.
Name of Facility: Hyatt Regency New Orleans. Type of Facility: Existing. Function of Facility: Hospitality. Location: New Orleans, LA. Square Footage: 1,170,342. Construction Timetable: July 2010 to October 2011. Facility Owner: Poydras Property Hotel Holdings Co., LLC. In-House Facility Management: David Fifer, director of engineering; Mike Smith, general manager. Architect: HC Architecture, Inc. General Contractor/Construction Manager: DonahueFavret; WELBRO. Electrical Engineer: Canzoneri & Associates, LLC. Mechanical Engineer: Associated Design Group. Structural Engineer: Pruitt Eberly Stone Engineers. Interior Designer: Looney & Associates, LLC. Lighting Designer: Lang Lighting Design.
Carpet: Brintons. Ceilings: Armstrong. Paint: Sherwin-Williams. Building Management System: Siemens. CMMS Software: Servidyne iTendant. Security System Components: Bosch; KABA (guest room locks). Fire System Components: Siemens. HVAC Equipment: Trane. Elevators/Escalators: Schindler. Roofing: Performance Roof Systems, Inc.; USG.