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Luxury hotels going ahead with renovations

High-end hotels are taking a big economic hit, but some are still planning face-lifts to pamper their guests.

February 01, 2009|Valli Herman

What a difference a year makes.

For the last few years, travelers could expect to find a new or remodeled hotel opening or reopening seemingly every month in Southern California.

That dizzying pace of development has slowed, although projects planned during the flush years are crossing the finish line in 2009.

"Many were far enough along that you really couldn't stop them," said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of PKF Consulting, a hospitality research and consulting firm. But this year, some projects are postponed and others are scaled back, although few have been canceled completely.

Luxury hotels are particularly eager to keep up appearances, especially in image-conscious Los Angeles. In one of the region's largest remodeling projects, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills is getting a $30-million upgrade to its spa, guest room furniture, decor and bathrooms, and, this winter, the pool.

"It was time for a face-lift," said general manager Mehdi Eftekari. The 285-room hotel, site of hundreds of celebrity interviews, last summer finished remodeling the ballroom.

Several large developments in urban and coastal settings could inspire the traveler's wanderlust. Among the most anticipated is Terranea Resort, built on the site of Marineland of the Pacific, a 1950s-era theme park in Rancho Palos Verdes. The 582-room resort is to open in June. It includes a nine-hole golf course, a 25,000-square-foot spa, three pools and a cliff-side bar.

The peninsula location of the nearly $450-million project allowed the developers to maximize views: Almost every guest room, ballroom or bar stool will have one.

Quirky concepts are still fashionable. In Palm Springs, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club is to introduce its signature eclectic design this month.

The hotel, which is south of downtown, has a sort of bohemian-camping vibe -- walls tented in drapes, vintage furniture and lots of nature in the surroundings. The "swim club" isn't just a put-on: The public can buy day passes or memberships and swim in one of the two saltwater pools.

In the heart of Hollywood, the $600-million Hollywood and Vine mixed-use development should be finished by year's end, complete with a nearly $350-million W Hollywood Hotel & Residences, the third W in Southern California. The 305-room hotel is to have a nightclub, a large rooftop lounge and a French brasserie.

A new brand, Andaz, came to West Hollywood last month. The 257-room Andaz, transformed from a Hyatt, has created sunrooms in place of the balconies from which rock stars sometimes tossed TVs.

Downtown Los Angeles is continuing its renaissance as several major business hotels upgrade, including the 453-room Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza.

The 1,354-room Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites continues a $35-million, three-year renovation that includes $500,000 in improvements to the L.A. Prime steakhouse and the hotel's revolving 34th-floor cocktail lounge, the BonaVista. This year, about half the guest rooms will be remodeled; next year, the rest will get refreshed.

Construction is underway on two major downtown hotels set to open in 2010, an 878-room JW Marriott and a Ritz-Carlton. They'll divvy up floors in a 54-story tower at the city's new $2.5-billion L.A. Live complex.

With major office buildings springing up around it, the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens in Little Tokyo (formerly the New Otani) is sprucing up too. Upgrades to the 21-story hotel's guest rooms and suites are to be completed by March.

Downtown L.A.'s Hilton Checkers is nearly finished with upgrades to its 188 guest rooms, having added new flat-screen TVs, furniture, wireless Internet access and other tech improvements, said Kathy Faulk, general manager.

The slower business climate also allowed the Wilshire Grand Los Angeles to accelerate the pace of its ongoing renovation, said Marc Loge, public relations director. The 900-room hotel is in the final phase of a renovation that will include new beds, flat-screen TVs and room decor.

A $30-million renovation of the Newport Beach Marriott Bayview is underway. The water-view hotel should soon have all its new bedding, granite countertops and flat-screen TVs in place.

Even a new property doesn't guarantee business, and some hoteliers are jittery about filling their new rooms.

Baltin expects hotels will continue to offer packages that include credits for dinner, spa treatments and parking -- in effect, a discount.

"If travelers want to get a good rate at a great hotel," said Baltin, "this is the time."


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