Westin La Paloma finishes top-down 'rejuvenation'

2013-10-20T00:00:00Z Westin La Paloma finishes top-down 'rejuvenation'By David Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

One of Tucson’s iconic resorts has officially completed a $35 million makeover, from the greens of its golf course to the pillows in its guest rooms.

Last week, the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, 3800 E. Sunrise Drive, marked the last major phase of an 18-month project that was the first propertywide renovation of the resort since it opened in 1986.

The project — whose cost grew from an earlier estimate of $30 million — was recently completed with the renovation and refurnishing of the resort’s main lobby and restaurant areas.

It’s a grand redo of a grand resort that was rescued from its owner’s bankruptcy just last year. Southwest Value Partners, an investors group led by Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver, acquired La Paloma in January 2012 and pledged to modernize the report to the standards of the upscale Westin brand.

Bankruptcy court documents detailed physical problems at the resort including a leaky roof, an inefficient main climate-control system and a water slide in disrepair.

Glenn Sampert, who became general manager of the Westin La Paloma in July, said the resort never completely lost its luster but needed upgrading and updating.

“We had an iconic resort, a great resort, and it just needed to be refreshened,” said Sampert, who previously served as the general manager of the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort and Casino and worked for Westin and Sheraton parent Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide since 1998.

The head of Visit Tucson, the rebranded Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said La Paloma remains a key local tourism and convention property and its redo will only help the area overall.

“It really helps us; it gives us more to market and sell,” said Brent DeRaad, president and CEO of Visit Tucson. “The rooms have been substantially upgraded and are now a key selling point for the resort.”

The renovation touched nearly every square foot of the resort and the La Paloma Country Club, which got a remodeled fitness center, resurfaced tennis courts and a redo of greens and bunkers at the 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses.

Other renovations included:

• The resort’s five pools and the water slide were upgraded, with new cabanas, travertine stonework and patio features including “negative-edge” reflecting pools and gas fire pits with fountains.

• La Paloma’s 60,000-square-foot conference space was renovated with all new carpeting and furnishings and upgraded audiovisual equipment.

• All 487 guest rooms, including 25 suites, were redecorated from the walls down and updated with expanded walk-in showers, new HD TVs, upgraded Wi-Fi and device charging stations. The resort still features Westin’s super-plush “Heavenly Beds,” covered in fine-thread-count linens, which helped spark the so-called “bed wars” among hotels when they rolled out in 1999.

The final major renovation phase was in the signature grand lobby, which looks out between tall arches over the pool and a stunning view of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and the AZuL restaurant area. The lobby and reception desk area were completely recarpeted, redecorated and refurnished.

A “living wall” of plants, a signature of Westin properties, overlooks a lobby and bar area that was transformed with new carpeting and refurnished with a lighter, less formal look and feel. The old lobby featured heavier, darker furniture and a darker look overall.

Groups of furniture form comfortable, living-room spaces, and vertical corner units with pillows invite guests to kick their shoes off and recline.

“Our belief is that people still want a great experience but they want to be more informal,” Sampert said.

Plans are in the works for another semi-casual restaurant, Sampert said. Award-winning local chef Janos Wilder closed his namesake fine-dining restaurant and the less-formal J Bar at La Paloma last May.

Beneath the trappings of luxury and comfort, La Paloma got a serious technology makeover that provides environmental and financial benefits.

A new heating and cooling system, a new high-tech laundry, and the addition of more energy-efficient lighting will help La Paloma toward its corporate goal of cutting its energy use by 30 percent by 2020, Sampert said.

Meanwhile, La Paloma is refining its use of technology to personalize the guest experience across all Westin properties, using preferences logged from past visits to cue things like room bookings and amenities.

“Technology now allows us to have more interaction with our customers, before they even enter the hotel,” Sampert said. “Even if you’ve never been here before, we know you want a room with a golf view, and that your favorite paper is the Wall Street Journal.”

Sampert says he expects La Paloma’s occupancy and revenue to recover from the renovation — which took blocks of rooms out of service as the project was completed in phases — and join the hoped-for recovery in the resort hotel industry.

Occupancy rates and room revenue in all hotel classes slumped during the recession in 2008 through 2010 and have recovered slowly since. In January 2010, occupancy in Tucson-area resorts fell below 50 percent.

Sampert said the company doesn’t share occupancy or revenue figures for individual properties, but La Paloma is tracking close to the average for area resorts.

For 2013 through August, Tucson-area resorts had an average occupancy of about 62 percent, down slightly from the same period in 2012, while room rates and revenue rose 2.5 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, according to Smith Travel figures reported by PKF Consulting.

Sampert said La Paloma also has widened its marketing effort, adding group sales people in places like Boston to sell to a Northeast market he said remains largely untapped.

“We’re trying to bring new business to Tucson,” Sampert said. “We have a destination that will sell itself if we can just get someone here.”

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