by Monica Chamness
A change in ownership has translated into a $2.5 million renovation project at the Radisson on the Southbank.
Since the hotel was purchased last April by Miami-based Riverwalk Hotels, LLC from Wyndham International, the pool has been renovated and all the meeting and guests rooms have been outfitted with high-speed Internet connections. This year, more expansive modifications are being made.
“Presently, we are redoing every guest room,” said Radisson general manager Joe Hockenbury. “The owners are aware that they have a fantastic asset here. They’re trying to capture and put money back into this asset to make it more valuable for them and more valuable for the customer. It is a very aggressive, young ownership with many ideas.”
Mike Corrigan and Associates is the contractor handling the project. All the public restrooms, some of the meeting space and the lobby is being renovated. The on-site restaurant, formerly located in the back of the complex, has been moved to the front of the hotel adjacent to the bar area for better visibility. The menu has been simplified as well.
“We changed every air conditioner in every guest room, which is a big plus,” said Hockenbury. “With the humidity in Florida we went with a new GE zone-line system that has a built-in evaporator system of sorts that keeps the rooms dry. They are very quiet and very functional. In Florida, the moisture seeps through the walls. That’s why we have to replace the sheet rock, too.
“The biggest thing is the room renovations that we’re doing. We are completely gutting the rooms, tearing the walls out, new vinyl, new wallpaper, new furniture, TVs, granite countertops. We’re going for the business look with soft colors.”
Down blankets and pillowtop mattresses have been added to each room. Of the 322 rooms, 175 are scheduled to be complete by July. All of the suites will be finished by December 2003. Remodeling is taking place in blocks of 20-25 rooms to avoid service disruptions and noise. Currently, construction is taking place on the fifth floor.
To add a little flair, the entire lobby is being remodeled. New carpet, furniture and decorative drapes are planned. Most importantly, a sheer serpentine-style drapery will hang in the atrium from the fifth floor all the way to the ground to conceal the back of the elevator shafts.
The Radisson is also painting the exterior Navaho white, which should be complete in about two months.
Hockenbury said a decline in travel following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has hurt occupancy rates. Usually their busy season, first quarter sales lagged.
“We were growing rapidly up until Sept. 11,” he recalled. “After Sept. 11, we took a nosedive. We finished the year behind plan. It’s strengthening a little bit.”
Aggressive marketing, including combing the region for new customers in area such as Orlando and Charlotte, is part of the strategic plan to bolster sales. Corporations such as banks and insurance companies and large travel consortiums that book accommodations in Jacksonville are receiving the most attention.
“We take individual customers and specialize and really work with them on a daily basis as they’re here,” said Hockenbury. “We make sure we have a convention service manager on property that works with each meeting planner on the property. Our turnover rate is low compared to the industry average. I have a lot of employees in housekeeping, engineering, kitchen, banquet staff that have been here 10-plus years.”
One of his employees, Larysa Fairfield, was honored Wednesday by the Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau as a Hospitality Hero for outstanding customer service.