JW Marriott: A work in progress

Substantial completion, originally projected for this month, is now expected in October

Lance Shearer
"That's the million dollar view," said director of engineering Rich Lutz, right. The new meeting space and adults-only guest wing at the JW Marriott Marco Island hotel are taking shape, with completion expected around this October.The new meeting space and adults-only guest wing at the JW Marriott Marco Island hotel are taking shape, with completion expected around this October.

“There it is – the million-dollar view,” said Rich Lutz, stepping out from the dark cavern that will become the third-floor Calusa Ballroom onto an unfinished concrete deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Except in this case, it’s more like the $250 million view. Lutz is director of engineering for the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, which is continuing the process of upgrading and expanding its meeting spaces and premium guest rooms, and the renovation he is overseeing is budgeted at about a quarter of a billion dollars. How much of that cost was for the thousands of cookies baked and handed out to Marco Island residents during the long string of open houses and informational meetings the hotel held during the approval process is not broken out.

Two years ago this month, the hotel shut down for three months to allow for demolition and the beginning of the heavy construction, in its first non-hurricane closing ever. And on this past New Year’s Day, it officially became a luxury-tier JW Marriott property. The hotel has remained open for guests since that hiatus in 2015, but plywood barriers – hand painted by a professional artist, since this is a JW Marriott – have blocked off the south end of the property, as the new Lanai Tower with ballrooms, premium adults-only guest accommodations, an entertainment area and rooftop pool deck have continued to take shape.

“It’s like doing open heart surgery while the patient is awake,” said Lutz, standing on the deck in a hardhat and safety vest. A small army of similarly attired workers moved in coordinated chaos around him, like a purposeful ants’ nest, as trades took their turns spraying paint on steel girders, stringing up coils of electrical conduit, and hanging ceiling grids. On average, said Lutz, there are 430 construction workers per day on the project, although they are not working double shifts, as they did during earlier phases.

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The work has stretched on longer than anticipated. Substantial completion, originally projected for this month, is now expected in October, which still means the new facilities will be finished before the next tourist season, said Bob Pfeffer, the hotel’s soon-to-be former director of sales and marketing. Pfeffer is taking a position in Marriott’s Convention Resort Bureau, although he will continue to be based on Marco Island.

When the renovation is complete, the hotel will have meeting space to handle the requirements of today’s meeting planners, including the 30,000-sq. ft. Calusa Ballroom with 24-ft. ceilings, and the ground floor Banyan Ballroom with a ceiling at 22 ft. The 13-ft. height of the meeting rooms was a serious sticking point in the old spaces, said Pfeffer.

In addition to the ballrooms, with their removable dividers, expanded pre-meeting space and hospitality areas, many with a piece of that million-dollar view, will enhance meetings at the hotel.

With the currently reduced meeting space, the JW has focused on leisure travelers, but it has been marketing the still-unfinished areas for future group business, said Pfeffer.

“I don’t think there’s anyone we’ve showed this area to that hasn’t booked it,” he said. Meeting customers’ expectations have changed, he said. “The pre-meeting space is key. People want to sit around communal tables, maybe with a nice view, and have informal meetings.”

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Above the rooftop pool deck, the balconies of 24 suites and 94 premium guest rooms on four floors will look down on the pool, and the beach and Gulf beyond. Like the pool and much of the Lanai Tower, these accommodations will be a kids-free zone. Dedicated elevators will restrict access as appropriate.

“People were always saying to us, ‘is there anywhere we can get away and be a couple?’ ” said Pfeffer. Children, if not left behind to be cared for by the guests’ household staff and nannies, can presumably be booked into their own rooms in another wing of the hotel, where accommodations start, per the website, at $355 per night.

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All ages will be welcome in the extensive video arcade, six-hole miniature golf course, and six lanes of bowling alley that will be a feature of the tower. Along with the various banks of elevators, a pair of escalators and a grand staircase, currently just a steel skeleton but looking to be quite impressive when complete, will facilitate movement within the area.

To facilitate sightlines, and not block off that million-dollar view, all railings along the new tower will be transparent glass, said Lutz.

For a virtual look at the website created by the hotel to monitor the status of its transformation, go online to paradisejw.com.