Life is beginning to return to normal for thousands of West Virginia residents and businesses that were affected by a chemical spill that contaminated the water supply in nine counties and forced officials to mandate a multi-day ban on tap water. Opening a 176-room hotel in the midst of such a ban proved to be a serious challenge for one hotel company.
“We were right on the verge,” says Carrie Hillenbrandt, sales and marketing director for BBL Hospitality, the owners and operators of the new Four Points by Sheraton, located in Charleston, W. Va. “If it was another day, a lot would have been different.”
The spill dumped thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane-methanol, or MCHM, into the Elk River—a mile and a half upstream from a major intake for West Virginia American Water, a private company that provides municipal water to the affected counties. The lack of tap water had a severe impact on area hotels, which had to rely on distributing bottled water to guests.
Despite the contamination, the Four Points by Sheraton Charleston, which took over a former Ramada property, opened its doors on schedule Jan. 16. Although the hotel was open for the majority of the yearlong renovation project, the property closed its doors for a few weeks leading up to the opening. Guests began checking in again to the new and improved facility at 4 p.m. on Thursday. The 12-story hotel, located on the Kanawha River, offers 12,000 square feet of meeting facilities, an indoor pool, and full-service dining at the Recovery Sports Grill.
“We were kind of in a unique situation compared to other properties in the area,” says Hillenbrandt. “We didn’t have the guest impact because we didn’t have any occupied rooms. For us, the challenge [was] finishing those final details.”
To remove the chemicals from the tap water, residents and businesses had to follow a strict flushing process outlined by different zones across the counties. Luckily, for BBL, the Four Points is located in zone one—the first zone to begin flushing the water.
“We had to go into every guestroom and run the water, per the directive from the health department,” says Hillenbrandt. “Water filters had to be changed. That took some time. There was some additional work that we hadn’t accounted for.”
Hillenbrandt says that the chemical spill and water ban did cause troubles for a few of the hotel’s suppliers, and the delivery of some artwork and fitness equipment was delayed. But considering what other hotels and businesses in the area went through, BBL feels lucky to have opened on schedule and is prepared to begin welcoming guests to the Charleston area.
“The water came back online just in time for us,” says Hillenbrandt. “We were on pins and needles waiting and watching the news. It really came at the 11th hour.”