Renovated Renaissance faces new challenges

Friday, February 7, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 6
By Hollie Deese

Images from Hatch Show Print adorn renovated bathrooms in the Renaissance Nashville Hotel.

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For decades, the Renaissance Nashville Hotel has been largely known as the one attached to the convention center.

That has changed with the construction of the new Omni Hotel and the Music City Center with its 353,143 square feet of exhibition space.

So like many long term relationships that go through a big transition, there is a bit of uncertainty and a whole lot of reinvention.

“For 27 years this hotel has been the anchor hotel next to our city’s main convention hotel,” says John Fleming, general manager of the Renaissance Nashville Hotel, part of Marriott International.

“Now, we are no longer that. We have to change quite a bit of what we do.”

Fleming has been at the Renaissance since 1993, and over the last few years he has seen more changes in the hotel than ever before.

“We are now an overflow hotel instead of a headquarters hotel,” he explains. “We have to take how we sell and what audience we sell to a little bit differently than we did before.”

Almost 700 rooms renovated

On Feb. 19, the very last of the guest rooms be have been redone, finishing up a $20 million dollar renovation of the hotel’s 659 rooms and 14 suites.

The room renovations began in September 1, 2013, following a $2 million dollar overhaul of the hotel’s two elevators and operating systems that put each one out of commission for two months.

The renovated accommodations include refreshed guest rooms, suites and bathrooms and updated amenities.

Safes, phone chargers and refrigerators were installed in every room, and Hatch Show Print murals are now in each guest room’s bathroom.

In addition, 75 of those bathrooms will have replaced tubs with shower stalls. Stone flooring has been laid in the entryways.

“We basically gutted the rooms and replaced everything – vinyl, paint, toilets, sinks, carpet, furniture, drapes – everything,” Fleming says.

“We obviously needed the renovation. Every seven to 10 years you go through a scheduled room renovation because you have to update your product to be competitive.

“Plus, we had all the new supply coming in so we had to do it anyway.”

The hotel’s last major guest room renovation was in 2002-2003.

During the renovations, the hotel was unable to book roughly 132 rooms at any given time, cutting out about 20 percent of its inventory.

It was a hard hit that bookings had to take in order for the hotel to be competitive in the future.

“When you run at a certain level of occupancy that takes the rooms out of order, you can feel it,” Fleming says.

But bookings for 2014 are “fantastic,” he adds, up 20 percent over where the hotel was this time last year.

Now that the inside is all redone, next on the agenda for 2014 is a total facelift of the exterior.

The old center

Earlier this month Spectrum | Emery Development was named the exclusive master developer for the old Nashville Convention Center under approval from the Metro Convention Center Authority.

Spectrum | Emery Development has 180 days from the naming date to finalize and develop a contract with the city. Renaissance will definitely be a part of those plans.

“Our owners have an agreement with the city that we are operating the center with the exception of exhibit space,” Fleming says.

“So all the meeting space, we are selling it, servicing it, and providing food and beverage. The whole convention center is going to be redeveloped.

“We are fortunate our space will be redeveloped within that. Once they are done with that facility, this whole complex will be fantastic and something we don’t have downtown.”

The revamped convention center is proposed to house the National Museum of African American Music in addition to a parking garage, retail and entertainment venues. It will also give the hotel an additional 31,000 square feet of meeting space to lease each year.

“We have quite a number of past groups who have used us who are very loyal to us who will continue to be using us,” Fleming adds. “We have to fill the meeting space, so we are looking at a lot of corporate education and pharmaceutical business to put in there, and this is all new business coming into Nashville that hasn’t been here before.”

A changing clientele

If anything can help smooth the transition Renaissance faces from catering to out-of-town business folks is the explosion of Nashville’s nightlife and influx of here-for-the-party tourists.

“Nashville being the ‘It’ city is a huge draw for us, both in conventions and meetings, and for leisure business, which was over 90 percent of our weekend business for 2013,” Fleming says.

“Our business in Nashville, particularly on the weekends in downtown Nashville, is the envy of many of the other cities right now.”

Fleming sees plenty of people coming in for a night or two from Chicago or Cleveland to catch a hockey or football game, and there has been an incredible increase in bachelor and bachelorette parties over the years.

“They are here to celebrate birthdays,” he says. “They are here to celebrate anniversaries. You ask them why they are coming down here and they say it is the place to be.

“When I first got here, weekend business wasn’t really good. The only people who went downtown were locals who knew what Tootsie’s or Legends was. I think it really took off when the CVB really branded our city a number of years ago with music.”

In fact, Fleming says people from all over the country are clamoring for a recent job position he posted.

“When I first got here, I would call a manager up and ask them to transfer to Nashville and they would say ‘Where? Nashville? I don’t know about that.’ Today there are gobs of people who want to come here. It is an up and coming city, there is a lot to do, it’s centrally located, there is a great cost of living, and no income tax. People know that, and it is a very desirable place to live.”