Faced with a pandemic, industry-wide pains and mandatory rules, the owners of the Hilton Garden Inn made a bit of a gamble toward the end of last year.
They decided to move forward with a complete interior renovation.
“As owners, we had to decide: Are we willing to make this investment?” Curt Fisher said. “And then the staff, it was a way to keep staff employed.”
Eight months and $3.4 million later, the Hilton looks like a new hotel.
All of the floors were stripped down to the sheetrock. Former furnishings were thrown out. Light fixtures, wall outlets, floor covering, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units were switched. Even bathroom fixtures were exchanged.
Hilton requires its franchises, including the Hilton Garden Inn, to update its interior design every 14 years. Fisher said the hotel, which opened in 2007, was due for the redesign as part of its franchise agreement.
Over the past year, Fisher worked with Hilton corporate designers on the project, using Hilton’s “Revive” design package.
“I think the scheme is more appealing to perhaps the younger folks,” Fisher said. “Its colors, designs are appealing.”
Fisher admitted he was pained to discard so much furniture and useful fixtures, but he was glad many pieces are being used elsewhere. The Hilton’s HVAC units, for example, went to Minneapolis to be used by other hotels.
The project also afforded the hotel a chance to become more sustainable. The new HVAC units are quieter and more energy efficient, while the hotel’s connections to several solar farms in the region will now power the building at 130% capacity.
“It was really cool to get that done,” Fisher said.
Yet the project was by no means a sure success.
Originally slated for completion in April or May, construction didn’t wrap up until the end of June.
Workers went through two floors at a time starting at the eighth and ninth floor while hotel staff assisted with design issues. And all the while, the hotel had to keep its doors open with COVID-19 as an ongoing threat.
“It was a scary decision to make at the time, not knowing where the pandemic was taking us,” Fisher said. “But we believed in the future of Mankato, and hospitality and the civic center.”
The Hilton renovation is an anomaly among lodging in Minnesota, said Liz Rammer, president and CEO of the hospitality trade group Hospitality Minnesota.
The hospitality industry has arguably suffered the worst out of any economic sector over the past year and a half. Industry groups were largely left out of federal and state grants, and hospitality lobbyists were unable to persuade Minnesota’s state legislators to include the same kind of relief funding other industries got during this year’s legislative sessions.
While the hospitality industry typically benefits from spring and summer tourism, occupancy rates haven’t rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Minnesota is trailing behind the national occupancy rate average, Rammer said.
“Nobody’s knocking it out of the park yet, and you need about 50% occupancy to start making a profit,” she said.
Mankato is doing better than state and national averages when it comes to occupancy, or the percentage of rooms sold divided by rooms available multiplied by 100. The area had 70.5% occupancy last month, ahead of Minnesota’s 63.5% occupancy and 69.6% occupancy throughout the U.S.
“It’s going to be hard for many,” Rammer said. “It’s a long recovery. We’re saying two to three years before the hotel industry gets back on its feet.”
With all those challenges, Fisher said he was thankful the Hilton Garden Inn stayed open throughout construction. The hotel even put up homeless residents at one point at the request of local advocacy groups.
A grand reopening is planned from 1-3 p.m. Tuesday, which will include a ribbon-cutting and tours of the new design.
While he’s excited for new design, Fisher said he hopes this will be the last major project at the hotel for a while.
“It’ll probably be 14 years before they make us do it again,” he said.