When Lara Latture, COO of The Hotel Group, started working on the rebranding project for the South Bend, Ind., DoubleTree hotel in 2011, she knew she had to get the community’s buy-in for the renovated property to become a viable business. “We needed a 100 percent rally from the community in order to be successful,” she says. “We allocated a lot of dollars into the public space to make it more attractive to the community, and that was a priority. Our real goal in South Bend was to tell a completely new story with a building that had been there a long time and that has allowed itself to become somewhat diminished in reputation and quality.”
A former underperforming Marriott property, the hotel is situated in a primary downtown location, yet three years ago was in serious need of significant updating on a number of levels, from the guestrooms to the common areas, and especially the food and beverage offerings. The building shares some commercial space in the common atrium, so it was important for a strategic restaurant or café to be prominently featured there.
Latture and her team understood that the optimal solution would involve a name change to DoubleTree and a complete overhaul to ensure an effective refurbishment. And upon closer examination, they found the key to reintroducing the property to the local residents was to make drastic changes to the F&B. After conducting research and determining the best options for the community, they made the decision to add a full-service Starbucks store in the atrium while simultaneously renovating the existing restaurant on the opposite side of the floor.
“Our goal with the Starbucks was to get the local community involved, get them excited and to rethink the building and the business itself,” Latture says. “Ultimately, we did a ton of due diligence in the town of South Bend. The city was excited, and they wanted this new hotel to happen.” The concept worked, and the Starbucks breathed new life into the lobby area, immediately attracting customer traffic.
“The Starbucks has been a big hit in terms of adding energy and vitality to a space that was moribund,” says Doug Dreher, president and CEO of The Hotel Group. On the other side of the building, another project was taking shape. The existing restaurant in the nine-story atrium was a vast structure of various levels that had lost market share over the years and had become less popular with guests and locals.
“We leveled the restaurant and created a new bar which was the main engine, so that became was the new focal point for the space,” Dreher says. “We then added a new dining room so we had all the dynamics we needed to create a sprawling multi-tier restaurant for the hotel.” The new restaurant, Baker’s Bar and Grille, boasts a Studebaker-themed décor. “Coupled with the Starbucks, it has been a nice complement to the property.”
Completed in June 2013, the rebranding and reinvention has positively impacted the hotel on a number of levels. According to The Hotel Group, since the renovations, the property has seen a 20 percent increase in room revenue, the RevPar index is up 13 percent, and the overall occupancy is up 35 percent. Together with the F&B and Starbucks, the hotel’s total revenue is up 29 percent.
Dreher says the renovation allowed the hotel to become ingratiated to the local community, re-establish some credibility, and even be genuinely embraced. Latture says: “Conceptually, we knew it is the anchor hotel for downtown South Bend. We saw an upside—at our company, we always see an upside.”