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The New Rules of Hotel Renovation

The New Rules of Hotel Renovation

Hyatt Regency Chicago

The challenge: To create a functional, social lobby space while reinventing the F&B outlets
Time it took: 3 years
Price tag: $168 million

If the Hyatt Regency Chicago’s lobby was ever going to reclaim its look-at-me status, General Manager Patrick Donelly knew the fountain had to go. The eight spouts shooting into the oversized pool of water was a head-turning feature when the hotel was built in the 1970s, but as the years passed and guests’ expectations evolved, the excessive waterworks became a clunky centerpiece. More of a distraction than attraction, the fountain obstructed views and drained the space of its potential for usability. When visitors entered the old lobby, they often had difficulty figuring out which direction to head because it was confusing and overwhelming, says architect Paul Bentel, who collaborated on the project with partners Carol Bentel, Peter Bentel, and Susan Nagle. “Sight lines are critical. One of the biggest challenges was: How do you take the lobby all apart and put it back together? There was an effort to rethink the way it all worked.”

Architect and planning firm Bentel + Bentel did just that during the third phase of the hotel’s three-year, $168 million renovation, which wrapped up in April 2013. “The lobby is a very powerful architectural space because it’s essentially one large room entirely enclosed in glass,” Paul Bentel says. “But this one was a product of 1970s architectural style.”

“We wanted to bring this 23-year-old lobby into the 2020 era and make the renovations good for the next 20 years.” Donelly says. He decided to keep the lobby open during renovations, implementing a build-as-you-go renovation model that involved relocating the registration desk and closing designated sections at different periods of the project. The business-savvy move boosted interest in the lobby and its new elements, says Donelly, who even installed windows so guests and patrons could take a peek at the remodeling process under way behind the walls.

Demolition of the fountain opened up the heart of the lobby and allowed Bentel + Bentel to design an energetic, unified space that boosted the number of seats from 30 to 200 and incorporated a sleek, urban sophistication to match the hotel’s downtown location. The new spacious lobby features 106 large-format plasma TV displays, iPad check-in kiosks, as well as four new dining concepts—Stetsons Modern Steak and Sushi, American Craft Kitchen and Bar, Market Chicago, and Big Bar. The new restaurants and bars are part of the hotel’s push to better monetize the lobby and make it a destination spot in downtown Chicago for guests, travelers, and locals, Donelly says.

Bentel + Bentel also added a new registration desk to foster better interaction between staff and guests, created a boundary between registration and the restaurant spaces to improve flow, oriented the bar in the lobby, enlarged the 24-hour food retail market, and installed a new LED lighting system. Other upgrades included a long, narrow band of constantly flowing water and a wall mural of rippling water, creating a visual effect that illustrates the hotel’s connection to the nearby Chicago River.

“For me, the greatest accomplishment is the view when you come in front door, with the lighting system coming up over your head, filtering the sunlight that comes through, the wall mural creeping up, the water feature,” Bentel says. “It is an overarching experience that allows you to see the lobby as something all its own. It reads as a single thing, rather than a lot of individual pieces.”

The lobby transformation was the crowning touch to the long overdue renovation project, which also involved an overhaul of all 2,019 guestrooms in the West and East towers. And the investment is paying off, as more guests and local residents are stopping by the lobby to explore the renovated space and socialize. “People are just coming to meet and talk in the lobby, and as a result, they grab a cup of coffee,” he says. “We’re gaining a local following for our restaurants. People are now coming for drinks after work and take out [dinner]. Guests are very happy.”

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