How to Preserve Architectural Detail and Effectively Transform a Historic Building Into a Modern Hotel

By Robert Habeeb President & Chief Executive Officer, First Hospitality Group, Inc. | June 09, 2013

At a time when uncertain economic circumstances, a competitive marketplace, and a lack of prime urban locations make securing opportunities for new builds in high-impact locations difficult ( and sometimes financially unfeasible ), adaptive reuse—transforming aging or historic structures into memorable and engaging new facilities—is an increasingly popular tactic.

Taking a turn-of-the-century space and remaking it into a 21st-century facility requires more than hoteliers wanting to add this type of project to their portfolio—it takes careful consideration and expertise. Such a strategy requires a nuanced understanding of how to blend the old and the new, a sophisticated technical and architectural skill-set, and an in-depth appreciation of how to accommodate cultural and community context. While every project is different, and requires its own blend of compromise, creativity and craftsmanship, there are key elements shared by every successful historic renovation, as well as a consistent set of best practices that developers can apply to preserve architectural detail and effectively blend history and hospitality.

alt text First Hospitality Group Inc. is in the process of transforming the historic Federal Building in Omaha, Neb. into a Residence Inn by Marriott which is set to open in the summer of 2013.

Understand the Technical Challenges

Successfully addressing the structural and functional deficiencies in an aging building is certainly a prerequisite for any historic hotel renovation. Doing so in a way that retains the character of the space while providing a facility complete with the modern amenities that today’s demanding guests require gets at the fundamental tension between old and new that makes these projects both challenging and rewarding. The reality is that while people love the ornate architecture and period décor of historic buildings, however, this aesthetic appreciation ends if it doesn’t come with the comforts and amenities today’s travellers have come to expect. Guests want to admire the artwork while enjoying their spacious and comfortable modern rooms. Because of the design and construction flexibility it affords, it often makes the most sense to renovate and reuse historic buildings that were not formerly hotels: the floor-plan flexibility and wall-to-wall renovation potential often more than makes up for the added expense involved with a more extensive renovation.

The list of items that must be addressed to make these spaces safe, functional and comfortable extends well beyond new floor plans and finishes, however. The structural liabilities of aging buildings can be extensive, and everything from dangerous or dated materials, to plumbing and electrical issues will typically require a full makeover. Introducing the technical infrastructure required to support must-have conveniences like wireless high-speed internet poses its own set of challenges. When selecting a site and planning a project, it is essential to understand the full range of technical and construction challenges that await you before renovation work begins. All of the history and character in the world will not be enough to overcome suboptimal functionality or compromises in guest comfort.

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Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.