How The San Juan Marriott Resort Remixed Itself for $37 Million
As the mercury begins to dip in the northeast, many are beginning their annual odyssey southward to warmer climate. Thanks to its pristine beaches, delicious food and rich culture, San Juan, Puerto Rico is an obvious choice for a getaway to paradise as the journey is only short flight from most any airport in the region. Best of all is that since the island is a U.S. commonwealth, U.S. citizens don't have to go through immigration.
A recent trip to The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, which overlooks majestic Condado Beach, checked all of the boxes on any traveler's holiday wish list: comfortable rooms, impeccable dining, exciting nightlife and stellar service. Having completed a multi-million dollar renovation while continuing to serve its guests, we asked Julian Cable-Treadwell, director of sales & marketing, to share what went into the hotel's refurbishment.
The hotel received $35 million renovation in 2007 as well as a $2 million refurbishment of the resort's restaurants, but the lobby lounge renovation didn't happen until August of this year. Any special reason why was the bar saved for last?
Julian Cable-Treadwell: We wanted to save the most impact renovation for last. It was really for two reasons, the first being that we wanted the lobby to reflect the most updated Marriott International "Great Room" concept and we also had the good fortune of having a new ownership entity that was willing and excited to put the correct amount of investment into the concept done right.
How daunting of a task was it to work on the lobby lounge compared to the work done on the rest of the resort?
The lobby is the heart of the hotel and it is extremely difficult to run a hotel operation without your lobby. When you think about it, every guest, meeting attendee, casino and restaurant patron had to pass through the lobby to get to where they were going so the impact to the operation and the satisfaction of our guests is tremendous. When we renovated the rooms, we shut down the hotel in complete blocks so that there would be no noise or impact felt by our guests. When we closed La Vista Latin Grill for its amazing makeover, we closed it down completely and we still had other outlets available to cater to our guest needs. In this case, and in most cases, we only have one lobby and it is smack bang in the middle of the hotel so it was difficult to minimize the extent of what was going on. However, we were working with a truly professional construction company that blocked off the area that they were working on from floor to ceiling with double insulation so the noise occurring inside wouldn't be heard outside. We were also able to decorate the outside of the construction so as to make it look like an art installation or exhibit to minimize the impact while maximizing the attention and profile of our other available venues.
The bar area looks fabulous. Not only does it look great, but it's really comfortable. What informed and inspired the design?
We are proud to have been in one of the first rollouts of the Marriott International "Great Room" concept and the bar area/front desk area renovation was phase one of a three phase project. The lobby lounge/Red Coral Lounge concept addresses the various needs of our customers throughout the day and their stay – from social mingle to quiet individual to communal tables all fulfill the requirements of the customer, albeit for work, relaxation, play or bit of everything. As more and more business customers work in a non-office environment and more and more leisure customers do not switch off from work but address how they approach work differently when on vacation, we see more people on their iPod, laptop, etc. meeting with their team while eating and having a drink or catch up on social media while editing their vacation videos/photos on their MacBook. The lounge allows them to move fluidly through these phases – connect to the Internet, check e-mail, news, Facebook, Twitter etc., then view and work on a presentation, have a meal, share presentation with team, celebrate with the team or have a drink with a significant other and then take a call on Skype or Facetime in the quiet individual zone.
Puerto Rican artist Carmelo Sobrino's amazing paintings are hanging in the lobby. How did his work come to be used?
The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and its ownership entities have had a long history of supporting and investing in local art. The new ownership of the property is equally as passionate about Puerto Rican art and culture and had worked with the artists featured in the lobby before so it was a natural progression that we utilize Carmelo Sobrino's paintings in addition to Neftali Maldonado's awe inspiring coral sculpture and Luis Torruella's whimsical sculptures behind the front desk and concierge.
The wooden “Coral Reef” by Neftali Maldonado is truly breathtaking. How did you come to find out about Maldonados' work?
Our local ownership have two other hotels — the St. Regis and the Sheraton Convention Center — and they have worked with these artist before and knew of their work and they were eager to create original pieces for our resort. We were also looking to have specific artwork that would “anchor ” the lobby and pull through the hotel positioning of being a Caribbean cosmopolitan beach club and the wooden coral piece as you enter the hotel and the wav e sculptures on the Front desk walls assist us in doing this.
Let's talk about the actual bar area. How does it compare to the old bar? Which feature are you most proud of?
The difference between the two bars is like night and day. Before renovation, the bar was functional but not very aesthetically pleasing. On the weekends, you could accommodate 500 to 800 people easily as we often did without salsa and meringue nights but during the day and the weeknights, the space was cavernous and cold. By introducing the new concept and unique design elements, in addition to a larger bar, the space is now aesthetically superior being used day and night by hotel guests and locals alike for social business, ad hoc meetings and social gatherings. There are spaces designed for small groups to gather or for intimate one on one experiences.
Our favorite feature is the sliding panel behind the door and the gold chain mail curtains to each side of the bar that cover the dance floor and band stand during the day and quieter nights allowing for a more intimate and warm environment but on busy nights, with a flip of a switch, the panel slides up and the curtains withdraw to open the bar up to the big band on stage and the dance floor to those who wish to dance the night away. It has dramatic effect while inviting everyone to enjoy the rest of the night with us.
What inspired the current bar menu?
With the introduction of the Marriott International "Great Room" concept came the introduction of all the elements that would pull the concept through. The food and beverage offering is equally as important as the design ethic and they often need each other to emphasize the feel that one is going for in a space. Marriott International designed a menu around delivering simple, fresh, chef crafted food that was indicative of the space and the destination the property was in. They broke the menu down into three categories that would suit the needs of most guests that used the Red Coral Lounge to provide: Five below (appetizers that were able to be served within five minutes); Under ten (appetizers to be shared that can be cooked and plated within ten minutes that highlight fresh simplicity while being comforting in addition to be fast and fashionable; and Quick twenty (light entrees that are an individual dinner driven but can be shared as well.).
When discussing the beverages, Marriott International also ensured that the beverage offerings were in keeping with the "Great Room" concept highlighting signature, hand crafted, fresh juice cocktails which you will find in our mojito and caipirinha menu while also ensuring a variety of quality wine by the glass options allowing our guests to truly savor what they want, how they want, in the space they want.
Rum reigns supreme in Puerto Rico. Tell us about some of your most coveted bottles.
One thing that we have come to know is that every bottle of rum in Puerto Rico is a coveted bottle of rum. On hand, we have almost every rum that Puerto Ricans enjoy drinking but Bacardi and Don Q reign supreme in this hot night spot. We have a number of Anejo's on hand as well for those that like it neat or want to savor the true spirit of Puerto Rican rum.
I was fortunate to sample a few Mojtos during my stay, especially the Dragonberry Mojito. What's the other go-to drink a visitor should experience at Red Coral Lounge?
The most popular drink at the moment is the Jalapeno Mojito. It is indicative of the heat of the Island of Puerto Rico and it's residents while being smooth "suave" enough to savor and enjoy. It is refreshing while being mildly spicy, just like a Puerto Rican night out on the town.
What's the one thing you learned about renovating the lobby lounge that you didn't know before?
Two lessons were learned from this renovation: 1. That people are extremely patient and considerate. Every one in the local community and every one of our guests were engaged in the renovation and what the outcome would be. The feedback that we have received since opening the Red Coral Lounge has been positive and constructive and the business we have received is indicative of that. 2. You need to grow into a concept while feeling your guests and your associates out as you go along. With a wonderfully different decor and concept opening up, you have to ensure that your existing and target customer's are on board with your ideas and that you will have a customer that wants to be in the new space you are introducing. You have to be able to be flexible and try new things and always change your paradigm to ensure success.
San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, 1309 Ashford Ave., San Juan, PR 00907