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Hotel owners' four-point plan in the works

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The $15 million renovation of the former Charleston House on Kanawha Boulevard is in full swing.

The hotel has been sectioned off into work and non-work zones and remains open for business. New elevators have already been installed, and the Recovery Sports Grill, a family-oriented sports restaurant, opened in October.

Meanwhile, construction of an indoor pool is about to begin, and the two top floors have been gutted to make way for condominiums.

"We've got a really good start," said Keith McClanahan, senior vice president of BBL Carlton, the general contractor. "We're in high gear. We do have a long way to go."

BBL Hospitality purchased the hotel in September 2011 for about $5 million and immediately announced plans to renovate the 12-story structure, which overlooks Haddad Riverfront Park and the Kanawha River.

When BBL Hospitality took ownership, the Windows on the River restaurant on the top floor had been closed for several years and the hotel had switched from a Holiday Inn affiliation to a Ramada Inn.

Carrie Hillenbrandt, BBL Hospitality's corporate director of sales, said on Wednesday that the hotel will remain a Ramada until renovations are complete.

"The hotel will then become a Four Points by Sheraton," she said.

Hillenbrandt described a Four Points by Sheraton as "a full-service mini-Sheraton." The refurbished hotel will have 176 rooms, which is slightly smaller than a typical Sheraton, she explained.

Four Points is one of nine brands owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. (The others are St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Aloft and Element).

The hotel here will be Starwood's first in West Virginia, Hillenbrandt said.

Hotels bearing the Four Points by Sheraton brand must have an indoor pool, so BBL Hospitality will build one on the first floor, on the east side of the building, behind the elevators.

Sheraton has specific standards for everything from furnishings to flooring. Two mock rooms have been constructed so attention can be paid to the smallest detail. One example: Each room will be equipped with a 42-inch Panasonic flat-screen television, but the TV won't sit on the desk. Instead it will be mounted on the wall, in a special frame, to provide a more finished look and to give guests more useable desk space.

Each room entryway has a laminated hardwood floor that is followed by multi-colored carpet tiles. A soiled tile can be easily replaced. All of the bedding is new and the linen is upgraded. An elegant chrome lamp graces the desk. There are lots of earth tones. The walls will be adorned with local art, Hillenbrandt said.

The heating and cooling system in each room is equipped with heat and motion sensors. If a room's thermostat is set at 70 degrees, the system kicks on when motion is detected and the room is brought to 70 degrees, McClanahan said. The system shuts down if no motion is detected after a specified period.

"This feature costs more but we thought it was worth it because it is more efficient," he said. "There are many 'green' features. The new windows are efficient and the new skin we will put on the building exterior is extremely efficient."

Hillenbrandt pointed out that instead of providing guests with small packets of soap, shampoo and hair conditioner, the bathroom is equipped with dispensers. "That way there's no waste and there aren't lots of plastic wrappers," she said.

McClanahan pointed out that 23 of the hotel's refurbished rooms will be suites that feature a living room in addition to a sleeping area.

One change past visitors to the hotel will surely notice when the remodeling is complete: The large meeting room on the first floor, just past the lobby, will be divided in two, with an open space in between. Guests who enter the front door will be able to see all of the way back to the ballroom.

Hillenbrandt said the ballroom is being remodeled with moveable walls so the hotel will be able to comfortably accommodate groups as small as 25 people and as large as 350.

Wireless Internet access is already available throughout the building. Renovated rooms will have easily accessible power outlets.

Completion of the hotel renovation is expected in October. When it is finished, the company will turn its attention to the 11th and 12th floors, where the condominiums will be built, Hillenbrandt said.

No deadline has yet been set for completion of the condos, and no price range has been established. A total of eight condos will be built - four on each floor, she said. How each is configured will depend on market demand.

All condos will have sweeping views of the river on one side and the city on the other. Hillenbrandt said the condos on the 12th floor will command higher prices because they will have higher ceilings and balconies.

BBL Hospitality is compiling a waiting list of potential buyers.

Everything in the building is being re-worked, including the retail spaces. Hillenbrandt said the company hopes to attract retailers that will be of benefit to the hotel's guests, the condo owners and the neighborhood.

The Recovery Sports Grill was BBL Hospitality's 10th. The company now has 11. The Four Points by Sheraton is BBL Hospitality's 14th hotel.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@daily or 304-348-4836.



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