HUNTINGTON BEACH — Rising elegantly over the aging downtown surf shops, the Waterfront Hilton seems more a home for the wingtip crowd than the sandal-clad sun worshipers that made this city famous.
Even co-owner Steve Bone believes the 300-room resort hotel is a little too stuffy for this laid-back beach town. So only six months after the hotel opened, he and his partner Robert Mayer have hired a new management team.
Out is Signet Hotel Management Co. of Dallas, which has managed the 12-story hotel on Pacific Coast Highway since it opened in July. In is Michael Bullis, the former president of Wrather Hotels and former general manager of the Disneyland Hotel.
Actually, Bone and Mayer formed their own management firm, Destination Properties Inc., and named Bullis president. Bullis will have control over day-to-day operations.
"This is a trend you are going to see more in the '90s, where owners are more active in their hotels," Bone said.
Bullis, 43, has worked in hotels since his youth and, most recently, headed his own hotel consulting company since leaving Wrather in 1989 after it had been bought by Disney. Bullis said he shares Bone's vision of loosening up the operations of the Hilton a bit.
"I think any hotel, no matter how good it is, has to be a place where the guests can have fun and the staff can have fun," he said. "People do get a little bit stiff in the way they do business. We can have more fun."
Bullis, however, would not be specific about how he intended to put life into the beachfront hotel.
Bone said that the hotel's occupancy has been averaging more than 50%, exceeding some independent projections of how the new property would fare in Orange County's generally depressed hotel market.
The hotel is the first phase of a $600-million resort hotel complex on 50 acres facing the Huntington Beach coastline. Plans include other luxury hotels, retail development and public recreation facilities.
Rick Schwartz, manager of management advisory services for the consulting firm of Pannell, Kerr & Forster in Irvine, said that local managers often have a better understanding of the market.