Wyndham throws coming-out party for long-awaited addition


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The construction fencing is gone. The temporary walls have come down. And no one is throwing a tarp over exposed structural steel to hide it from arriving dignitaries.

Seven long years after it started, a modest 20,000-square-foot addition at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Hotel is done — honest to goodness, no lie. It has the occupancy permit to prove it.

Wyndham is so elated that it threw a coming-out party Thursday evening to celebrate. Construction actually ended in April, but the hotel didn’t get its permanent occupancy permit until Wednesday.

“It’s about giving the hotel back to Pittsburgh and saying we’re done,” said Scott Marn, Wyndham Pittsburgh general manager and the chain’s regional vice president.

He noted that when he arrived for a short visit in 2011, the hotel was in bankruptcy and everything was “gloom and doom.” A year and a half later, things had gotten better but the hotel still wasn’t “over the hump yet.”

Now, it’s ready to shine.

Business is up, union contracts have been settled, and the hotel — formerly a Hilton — is poised for growth, Mr. Marn said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of momentum. People enjoy coming to work right now. I can’t say that was true a year and a half ago,” he said.

For a very long time, there was little to celebrate.

The construction project, started in 2007, was plagued by work stoppages due to unpaid bills, a bankruptcy and an ownership change. For more than two years, rust-colored structural steel, the framing for the addition, greeted visitors. It was deemed to be such an eyesore that it was covered up for the 2009 G-20 economic summit.

Today, patio furniture and brightly colored umbrellas have replaced the fencing that blocked part of the sidewalk and entry to the hotel.

Visitors now see a sweeping glass facade instead of exposed steel beams. The addition has spawned a 10,000-square-foot ballroom that can seat 500 people on the mezzanine level, 4,100 square feet of meeting space on the first floor, and a 27-foot-by-14-foot swimming pool and spa.

The ballroom, some 220 feet long with floor-to-ceiling glass and a roof that swoops up as high as 30 feet, overlooks Point State Park and has proven to be in high demand for weddings and other special events. It has hosted 246 meetings or events in its first year.

“This has been the busiest piece of real estate we have,” said Tom Hemer, the Wyndham’s director of sales and marketing.

At ground level, the new meeting space — which fronts Commonwealth Place and the park — has proven to be just as popular since being completed in the spring. The hotel opened up the space for the arts festival and was elated with the response.

“It was used basically as a bistro. It was a place where people could come in, have a glass of wine, have a burger. We served all sorts of food, beverages, beers,” Mr. Marn said, adding the space was jammed on weekends.

The hotel originally had wanted to use the street-level space as a restaurant but abandoned that concept when it had trouble attracting a tenant because of the lack of dedicated parking. It’s now glad it did.

“We’re very happy that happened because the meeting space is serving us very well,” he said.

With the addition, the hotel also has added about 2,000 square feet of lobby space as well as a T-shaped grand staircase to take guests to the new and an existing ballroom on the mezzanine level.

On the other side of the lobby, the Wyndham has come up with another new wrinkle — a “grand wedding and events room” where couples thinking about using the hotel for their wedding can sample wines, music, linens, even M&Ms flavored to taste like wedding cake.

The room, apparently only one of two of its kind in the region, has been a hit, officials said. Combined with the new ballroom, it has helped to drive up hotel weddings by 300 percent over last year. Officials are expecting them to grow by another 450 to 500 percent over the next two years.

In all, the Wyndham will host about 35 weddings this year and another 68 so far next year — so many that it isn’t able to accept any more large weddings in 2015.

At the same time, the hotel — which left a trail of unpaid bills before filing for bankruptcy in 2010, is back in the black — with a first quarter that was just “obscene,” Mr. Marn said. “The days of not making a profit here are done.”

Occupancy, after plunging during the hotel’s woes, is improving. Two movie production teams stayed at the hotel and another is booked to do so. A majority of the airlines flying from Pittsburgh also have extended-stay agreements with the Wyndham, Mr. Marn said.

Craig Davis, president and CEO of tourism agency VisitPittsburgh, said the hotel has been very accommodating in helping to attract conventions and other big events. Potential customers, he added, have had “very positive things” to say about the property.

“They’ve made a tremendous contribution in the past two years and continue to be a strong partner in our efforts in the future,” he said.

Union officials could not be reached for comment.

Wyndham officials are hoping the celebration will close the dark chapter in the hotel’s past and bring it into new light. Mr. Marn, who became general manager in January 2013, said he was hired to “make everybody forget about the past.”


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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