Long Island hotels renovate to keep up with business needs

The Inn at Fox Hollow in Woodbury completed The Inn at Fox Hollow in Woodbury completed a $1 million renovation last year with revamped guest rooms and pool area, and a new wine bar. This wedding party met on April 4, 2014, in the main lobby before the ceremony next door at the Fox Hollow Country Club. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Hotels across Long Island are in makeover mode.

The rush to renovate is being spurred by an improving economy and the need to accommodate the rising expectations of a new generation of business travelers.

And the trend goes beyond this region. It is happening across the country as hoteliers rejuvenate properties after a period of tight financing left some hotels looking tired and rundown.

"Renovations to some extent follow the economy," said Adam Weissenberg, a hospitality and leisure industry analyst at Deloitte. "Right now the industry is definitely on an uptick . . . the time to renovate is when you have the money."

Many hotel owners are taking the opportunity to reshape their lodgings to meet new guest needs and draw back corporate clients who left for more budget-friendly accommodations when the economy faltered. At many of the Island's hotels, general managers said the goal is to improve occupancy during the weekdays with business travelers.

Many revamps include redesigned lobbies and meeting areas that focus on making the spaces more social, technology-accessible and inviting -- a change intended to lure members of a generation who bring technology wherever they go. The redesigns include new furniture, carpeting and linens. They come with price tags big and small. Some examples:

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The Hyatt Regency Long Island in Hauppauge redid its interior in a sleek gray color palette and reconfigured its lobby in a $12 million renovation that was completed at the end of February. "You want to keep your product fresh and relevant," said general manager Jeff Rostek.

The Garden City Hotel began unveiling its $26 million face-lift in February with an overhauled lounge and a new steakhouse. New owner Fortuna Realty Group aims to transform the iconic property into a boutique hotel.

The Hilton Long Island Huntington finished its two-year, $16 million makeover last year, a project that followed its purchase by new owner The Dow Hotel Co.

The Inn at Fox Hollow in Woodbury completed a $1 million renovation last year with revamped guest rooms and pool area, and a new wine bar.

The imperative is "staying competitive in the market now that money is available," said Jonathan Nehmer, president of Jonathan Nehmer + Associates Inc., a design and project management firm in Rockville, Md. "You know someone is going to do it across the street from you, and the last several years you had your hands tied."

Nehmer, whose company primarily works in the hospitality industry across the United States, said his own business has improved recently compared with four years ago.

BOOSTS TO ECONOMY

Hotel renovations boost the local economy through spending, construction jobs and tax revenue. More luxurious spots like The Garden City Hotel or lodgings located near destinations such as the East End vineyards, also draw tourists to the Island.

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Nassau and Suffolk both charge a hotel and motel tax that is 3 percent of the room rate. As hotel properties are renovated, owners typically increase the room rates, which in turn boosts the tax revenue.

The rates are also driven by demand, and occupancy at local hotels has been on the upswing since the recession. In February the Long Island hotel occupancy rate was 60.8 percent, up from 54.9 percent two years ago, according to Hendersonville, Tenn.-based hospitality research firm STR Inc. (In 2013, occupancy figures from early that year were inflated by guests displaced after superstorm Sandy.)

In Suffolk, increased hotel tax revenue means more funds to promote tourism and to fix up parks and museums, said Robert Lipp, director of the Suffolk County Legislature's Office of Budget Review.

TAX BREAKS HELP

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Development agencies sometimes seek to bolster hotel expansions. In January, the Nassau Industrial Development Agency okayed $2.6 million in breaks on sales and mortgage recording taxes for The Garden City Hotel renovations.

Repairs are part of a hotel's normal business cycle, and many owners must renovate within a set time period as required by a franchise contract or mortgage.

But rehabilitation plans were put on hold when money froze during the recession.

"Marriott, during the depth of recession, did kind of back off a little bit, because there wasn't any money coming in around the country," said Kevin Moran, general manager at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ronkonkoma. The Courtyard upgraded its rooms and lobby slowly over two years and finished in the summer of 2012.

"It's just a natural cycle that was delayed because of the downturn," said Jan Freitag, senior vice president of global development at STR.

Business travelers like Triana Newton, 46, a Vancouver-based executive with Dale Carnegie Training, are driving some of the changes in hotels. Newton stays at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ronkonkoma for a week every month because her company's headquarters are in Hauppauge.

BETTER OFFICE SPACE

"I kind of expect now to have reasonable work space in my room and in the public space where you can function," she said. "Before, it was a ratty chair and desk, and I don't think anybody had put thought in it. That part has changed."

Newton said she often uses the lobby area -- fitted with enclosed podlike seating space and TV in the renovation -- to have impromptu meetings with traveling colleagues and to unwind after a long day.

Guests count on hotels to have reliable wireless Internet and comfortable public areas, industry analysts said. And if one property renovates to that standard, the others immediately follow to stay competitive.

COMPETITION SPURS CHANGE

"It's keeping up with the Joneses," said Mike Johnston, a principal at Plainview-based Concorde Hotel Group, a hospitality-focused consultancy.

At the Hilton Huntington in Melville, new owner Dow asked guests for their input before starting to remodel and noted that many wanted more comfortable work spaces in their rooms and in public, said Randall King, Dow's vice president of sales. Dow also upgraded the Hilton lobby bar so it melded more naturally into the seating area around it.

The Inn at Fox Hollow also made social space a priority, tearing down walls to a meeting room to remake it into a lounge area with a wine bar.

"Before, the lobby's appearance was the big marble halls, and people didn't spend any time in there," said Freitag, of STR. "Now the trend is for these lobbies to be more social areas where people want to come downstairs . . . and use it as their office on the road."

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