Wyndham director says hotel will take opportunity to do the addition 'right'

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The seemingly never-ending construction of an addition to the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown hotel is going even deeper into overtime.

But this time, a hotel official says, it's by design.

The hotel is extending the 20,000-square-foot project to include part of the lobby, the L-shaped conference center next to it, and a gift shop at the rear of the building.

With the latest renovations, the hotel now is shooting to have all of the work completed by March, said Tom Hemer, the Wyndham's director of sales and marketing. That's slightly more than 51/2 years after construction of the addition started on what was then a Hilton property.

"We wish it was sooner, but -- you know what? -- we're taking the opportunity to do it right," Mr. Hemer said Tuesday. "By changing the scope to make sure all of the aesthetics matched up and it's done in the right way, we think it's worth the additional time."

The latest changes came at the behest of owner Kiran C. Patel, who brought the hotel out of bankruptcy in 2011. He wanted the decor of the lobby to match a new first-floor meeting room space that will feature large glass windows with views of Point State Park.

As part of the renovations, an upscale bar and lounge will be built in the lobby near the meeting space and a new patio area. An existing bar will be removed from the lobby.

The hotel also is planning to upgrade the adjacent conference center. A gift shop at the back of the hotel will be moved into the conference center.

Mr. Hemer said the improvements are part of an effort to turn the hotel into a "four-star experience."

But it is taking a long time to get there. The addition has taken longer to build than PNC Park, Heinz Field, the Consol Energy Center and the light rail extension to the North Shore.

The $8 million project has been plagued by work stoppages due to unpaid bills, a bankruptcy and the ownership change. For a long time, the only thing visitors saw was the addition's rust-colored steel framing, deemed to be such an eyesore that it was covered for the 2009 G-20 economic summit.

While the structural steel has since been covered and replaced with a sweeping glass facade, the inside space is still very much a work in progress.

A 10,000-square-foot second-floor space that will be an extension of the King's Garden meeting rooms is about 85 percent complete, Mr. Hemer said. Likewise, the 4,000 to 5,000 square feet of meeting space that will be available near the first-floor lobby still need to be enclosed and completed.

Nonetheless, Mr. Hemer believes the space, once finished, will give the hotel an edge. The second-floor space offers head-on views of Point State Park and already is drawing interest.

The Wyndham already has the most meeting space of any hotel in the city and the new square footage will only strengthen that, he said. "This is just going to help our ability to attract conventions as well as the city to attract conventions."

Even as the construction has dragged on, the hotel's fortunes have improved since Dr. Patel, a Tampa, Fla., cardiologist, took over, Mr. Hemer said. Occupancy is up 10 percent, and group and convention business has jumped by 50 percent. Total revenue is up 39 percent, he said.

The hotel's main union, Unite Here Local 57, and its 150 members won a new contract in October. Mackenzie Smith, lead organizer for Unite Here, said business, while improving, is still "considerably depressed" compared to what it was in the hotel's heyday as a Hilton and that the union is working with management to try to win it back.

"We're very deeply investing in the efforts the company is making to bring business back. I think the renovations are an important part of that," she said, adding that she hopes they will be completed "as quickly as possible."

Mr. Hemer said he understands the frustration over the pace of the improvements. But he insisted that the wait will be worth it.

"We want the city of Pittsburgh to be proud of the hotel again. We understand that the renovation has taken a lot longer than anybody would like. But we're almost done. And we are in the process of becoming a great hotel again," he said.

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


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