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At Marriott, 409 Rooms With A Positive View

Hotel A Big Part Of Plan To Make City A Destination

August 26, 2005
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer

Kenneth Walker labored seven months at the Hartford Marriott Downtown, nailing drywall and stuffing insulation.

Thursday, as the new $81 million hotel opened, Walker stood out in the sea of visitors and guests attired in suits and fancy clothes, his blue jeans ripped and stained with joint compound.

As he gazed around, eyes often lifted upward, he was clearly proud of the role he and his fellow craftsmen had in erecting the 22-story building.

"I was bragging to all the people that I'm working with now that I helped build this place," Walker, of Hartford, said. "It's amazing. It looks so different with people in here."

Walker, on his lunch break from another construction job across the street, was among hundreds of visitors to the grand opening of the hotel, considered a crucial cog to Adriaen's Landing.

It is hoped the hotel will spur bookings at the attached convention center, offering nearby lodging, and will attract more business travelers and tourists to the city with its upscale amenities.

The 409-room Marriott also was designed to breathe new life into a once-desolate stretch of Columbus Boulevard. Two-story windows on the ground floor give passersby glimpses of those dining or having a drink in an Italian restaurant and a bar.

The hotel also will provide jobs, 80 percent of which will be full time, to as many as 250 housekeepers, cooks, front-desk staff, maintenance workers and doormen. So far, the hotel has hired about 220, 73 of them Hartford residents.

One newly minted housekeeper, Yolanda Otero of Hartford, learned about job openings through a friend who had also applied. She had left her job at a hotel in Manchester to go on maternity leave and was attracted by the Marriott in Hartford because it was brand new.

"I wanted the opportunity to open a hotel," Otero said. "And this is a beautiful hotel. Just look at it."

The building is designed in the tradition of a turn-of-the-20th-century grand hotel, and its cream-colored exterior is rendered in bands of granite, limestone and textured cement. Atop the structure is a curved campanile that reflects the design of the convention center roof and is intended to make a statement in the city's skyline.

The lobby exudes luxury with its broad entryway, marble fashioned in a black-and-white circular pattern on the floor, topped off with black, lacy flourishes. Above is a massive, inverted lighting dome rendered in golden glass panels and finished off with a touch of mercury glass.

The colors chosen for the hotel - bold yellows, blues and greens - recall New England of the 18th and 19th centuries, when bright colors were popular. Carpeting on many floors - including the 8,000-square-foot ballroom, larger than any in a city hotel - features stylized dragonflies, which densely populate Connecticut.

While the hotel recalls an earlier, gracious era, guest rooms are equipped with high-tech devices aimed at the business traveler, including Wi-Fi Internet access and data ports.

All the upscale amenities, including a fitness center and day spa on the 22nd floor, come at a price, however.

Len Wolman, chairman and chief executive officer of developer Waterford Group, said staying at the hotel will cost guests more than at competitors.

"The market that this hotel is positioned at is the top of the market," Wolman said. "It's going to be more expensive."

A guest room going for $189 on a weekday is about $10 to $20 a night higher than most competitors in the market, said Mark Fallon, the hotel's general manager.

Wolman said he expects the Marriott to be about 60 percent occupied in the first few months of operation, typical for a new hotel. Established hotels hope to have 70 percent or 80 percent occupancy in peak seasons, he said.

The hotel has reason to be optimistic, Wolman said.

The Marriott has 38,000 room nights reserved for groups so far, with 70 percent, or 26,600, in the first 18 months. The goal is have 44,000 room nights for groups in a 12-month period, Fallon said.

Thursday's opening was marked by a ribbon-cutting and speeches by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Mayor Eddie A. Perez, both noting the hotel was another key piece of the revitalization of downtown Hartford.

Unlike many downtown development projects, the Marriott was financed without state money. Construction began two years ago, but first had to overcome the reluctance of banks. Financing includes an $8 million loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"This all comes down to a few key things: teamwork, a safe and well-built building and total organized chaos," said Mark Wolman, Len Wolman's brother and head of Waterford Group's construction operations, drawing laughs from those at the opening ceremonies. "And before us, a vision that we all held to the very end."

Thursday's festivities also included a reception in the ballroom for employees. Workers entered on a red carpet and were showered with confetti. A disc jockey played "Let's Get It Started."

Walker, the construction worker, remembers when the building was a mass of steel framing, hanging wires and exposed plumbing.

"To see it today, it's really something," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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