Should This Hotel Be Open To Guests?

In the hospitality industry, it’s becoming increasingly common for hotels to remain open while they’re undergoing renovations, or to open their doors to guests while they’re still under construction. Known as a “soft opening,” it’s a way for hotels to recoup costs and train staff while they finish up the building. Usually, a soft opening means the hotel bar is still being completed or the pool is out of order, but occasionally you come across a hotel that has taken the concept to a whole new level.

Reddit user zxphoenix was shocked at what he found when he turned up at the Red Roof Inn in Brentwood, Tenn., this week. The first sign of trouble was the construction scaffolding, which enveloped the building on all sides. Despite the dubious appearance, a “now open” sign can be seen hanging from the metal framework. Handwritten cardboard posters direct guests from the boarded-up lobby to the “front desk,” which is little more than a table wedged in a doorway. The hotel guest said of the three floors in the hotel, only one side of the first floor could be considered “livable.” That’s something of a relative term given that his room door wouldn’t fully close, bits of construction debris blew out of the air conditioning unit, and the plumbing sounded like “a pig is being butchered in the pipes.”

Take a look at the pictures below and you’ll see the exposed floors, the walls ripped down to the studs, the plastic sheeting covering windows and plenty more that would have any rational traveler running the other way.

Have you ever seen such a crazy “soft opening” before?

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Update: The folks from Red Roof Inn reached out for comment:

This hotel location is no longer a Red Roof Inn, hence the construction and changes,and has been closed from our brand as of 3/15/13, we appreciate the authors relaying of the story she picked up from a reddit user but in this case the location is not ours and in the story is not correctly identifying the location.

[Photo credit: reddit user zxphoenix]

The New Reno: Yes, Virginia, There Is Gentrification

renoI’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that Reno has historically not been one of my favorite places to visit. But I spend a fair amount of time passing through, because my brother and his family live nearby, in the ski town of Truckee. Flying into Reno is convenient for anyone wanting to visit Lake Tahoe.

For years, my brother, Mark, has been telling me that Reno is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, what with the implementation of Wingfield Park – the city’s kayaking park that runs through downtown – and the Truckee River Walk with its galleries, cafes, and brewery. But don’t worry: Reno is still The Biggest Little City in the World, rife with the requisite prostitutes, crack houses, tattoo parlors, pawn shops and all the unsavory characters one would expect to find.

Yet, I discovered a younger, gentler, hipper Reno over Thanksgiving when I was in Truckee. Reno is trying to dial down its hard-core gambling, all-you-can-eat, come-all-ye-societal-fringe-dwellers rep. The most noticeable change is the gentrification underway along the South Virginia Street Corridor, the major north-south business artery. The street is paralleled to the east by a mix of decrepit and charmingly restored Victorian and Craftsman homes. Housing, Mark says, is ridiculously affordable.

I did a book signing over the holiday off South Virginia at a bustling new cheese shop, Wedge. A lovely addition to the area, Wedge has an excellent selection of domestic and imported cheese, as well as house-made sandwiches, specialty foods and primo charcuterie. Want a good, affordable bottle of wine, some soppressata, and a hunk of award-winning, Alpine-style cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin? Wedge has it.

When Mark and I arrived at the shop, he commented on how much the area was changing, citing the soon-to-be-open wine bar, Picasso and Wine, next door. The employees cheerfully agreed that there were lots of exciting developments underway, but that “there’s a crack house just two doors down.” They weren’t joking, either. We were parked in front of it.renoClose to Wedge is Midtown Eats, an adorable, farmhouse-modern cafe, and Crème, a sweet breakfast spot specializing in crepes. Get lunch at popular soup-and-sandwich spot Süp, imbibe (and eat) at Brasserie St. James brewery, Craft Beer & Wine, and mixology geek faves Reno Public House, and Chapel Tavern (over 100 whiskeys on shelf!). Making dinner in your rental ski cabin or condo? Visit the Tahoe area’s only Whole Foods.

If you’re in need of some sweet street-style, hit Lulu’s Chic Boutique or Junkee Clothing Exchange. If it’s your home that’s in need of an inexpensive upgrade, Recycled Furniture is the place. As for those tats and street drugs? You’re on your own.

Future plans for the South Virginia Corridor include greater emphasis on facilitating more pedestrian-friendly walkways, public spaces featuring art installations, fountains, and benches, and street-scaping. Gentrification may not always be welcome, but for Reno, it’s the start of a whole new Big Little City.

[Photo credits: Reno, Flickr user coolmikeol; bike path, VisitmeinReno.com]

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to undergo $100 million renovation


One of Istanbul‘s most popular tourist destinations is getting a long-overdue makeover. The 550-year old Grand Bazaar is about to be infused with 140 million Turkish Lira (about $100 million USD) to renovate and update the covered market. Once plans are approved next month, work will begin at night to avoid disrupting day trade. The Grand Bazaar is over 45,000 square meters with nearly 3,600 shops selling everything from handmade rugs to gold jewelry to Turkish water pipes and was last renovated in 1894 after a major earthquake.

In addition to restoring the original features of the market, modernizing electrical work, the refurbishment aims to bring in more high-end Turkish and international brands to appeal to more local shoppers. While the bazaar currently sees about 500,000 visitors daily, only about 30% are local and name brands may attract more locals than tourist souvenir stalls. According to local newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, interested retailers include luxury goods label Vakko and supermarket chain Migros. With the Council of Monuments reviewing and approving plans, it is hoped that the Grand Bazaar will retain its heritage and avoid becoming another generic shopping mall. Regardless of new additions, locals and visitors can agree that cutting down on the large amount of stalls selling Made-in-China swag and “genuine” fake Gucci bags to make room for more traditional artisans could help preserve the unique landmark.

Hotel Review: The Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico

Formerly a Holiday Inn (and long before that, a 60’s era tennis club and hotel), the Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico underwent major renovations as it transitioned from chain to independent hotel. The local ownership remained the same, but the decor, attitude, and commitment to the environment is all new.

The vibe here is young – both the GM and the chef are the youngest to hold those titles in any hotels in the San Juan area. The sleek lobby features a colorful hanging chandelier as its focal point, and the bar, Coladas, is full of the hip and sexy people until late every night. The rooms have been completely redone, with the addition of mini-fridges, LCD TVs, iPod docks, better-quality bedding, and organic bath products.

Additional green features have also been implemented. The staff uniforms are made from recycled polyester, the used cooking oil from the kitchen is converted to biodiesel, the stationary is both recycled and recyclable, and the water used in the kiddie water park adjacent to the pool is reused. In the year that all lights have been replaced with LED lights, energy consumption has decreased by 50%.

We recently stayed at the Verdanza Hotel and discovered that, while the vibe is sleek and sexy on the surface, traces of the old Holiday Inn still seem to linger. The parking lot clearly visible from the pool’s green vinyl lounge chairs suggest its former incarnation, while the white and orange pod-like chairs in the Eighty 20 Bistro and the complementary wired internet access point to the future. The added services and special events go above and beyond what you’d find at any Holiday Inn as well.

Over breakfast, the hotel’s Director of Public Relations, Lorraine Ortiz, explained that the goal of the 222-room Verdanza Hotel is to provide the feel of a smaller hotel with a more personalized experience. Services like custom-made picnic baskets, free pedi-cab rides to the beach (which is less than a five-minute walk away) and special events like Art and Friends, a monthly exhibition of works from young artists, do just that.

The Verdanza Hotel is located one mile away from the airport – just look to the left as your plane lands and you’ll see it – in the Isla Verde district. While it’s close to the beach it is not conveniently located for those who wish to explore more of Old San Juan. A 20-minute 75-cent bus will take you into town from the hotel, but to get back later in the evening, you’ll need to spring for a $20 flat-rate taxi back. Rates at the Verdanza Hotel range from $160-200 per night, so if your goal is to spend time in Old San Juan, you’d be better off staying in in the city and saving money on transportation each day.

The Verdanza Hotel offered a media discount on the room, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

Daily Pampering: Get a Cabana Pedicure at The Four Seasons

Cabana Pedicure
The Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills has undergone a $33 million renovation, and Cabana Pedicures (from $80) are just the icing on the cake.

Still, let’s talk about that icing. A newly renovated, private outdoor cabana is available for both guests and non-guests to book pedicures, manicures, Swedish or deep tissue massages and foot reflexology. The luxury cabana comes at no additional charge.

In addition to cabanas, the fabulous hotel has also revamped their 4,000 square-foot Ballroom — or unvamped it, rather — returning it to a natural light-filled look of cool California charm. The infamous Windows Lounge has been updated to include elements of nature like a “backlit photographic glass bar top that exhibits an image of succulent foliage, and a green onyx fireplace.” The adjacent patio has been expanded to accommodate seating for up to 25 and two wrought iron cabanas, as well as “newly planted orange trees, bougainvillea and lush greenery.” The Cabana Restaurant has a new awnings, discreetly hidden space heaters for cool nights, and wellness-oriented menu with categories like Indulgence, Energy Booster, Antioxidant and Comfort.

Most recent is the completion of the 1940s glamour-inspired guest rooms with mirrored wall paneling and white-gold chinoiserie headboards, accompanied by warm neutral furnishings and splashes of teal or coral. Additional details include nature-themed carpeting and throws, following the classic Four Seasons tradition. New flat screen TVs and other fixtures are also being added.
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