Slowly but surely: Taking time to get it right at JW Marriott
It’s going to take a little longer to spend all that money.
JW Marriott general manager Rick Medwedeff confirms that final completion date for the renovations in progress at the hotel has been pushed back – again – but he had a pretty good reason.
They’re making it better. Originally, the work was budgeted at around $250 million, but without altering the footprint of the new meeting space and adults-only wing, the revised cost is expected to be closer to $320 mill.
“We are blessed to have some owners with very deep pockets, and they didn’t want this to be anything less than the best,” said Medwedeff. As the work has progressed, ideas for “bells and whistles” for the virtual entertainment center and even more upscale finishes have contributed to pushing back the construction timeline.
“With any complex design, enhancements made during construction can set you back. Also, they had difficulty coming out of the ground.”
Beyond that, as is often the case in remodeling existing structures, once the crews started tearing into the walls and flooring, they found conditions they were not anticipating. Unlike hotel towers where each successive floor is a duplicate of the one below, the massive open spaces in the JW’s new tower mean each floor is different, and it’s not until the seventh floor that the floors become uniform.
Originally, all of the work was slated to be complete on Jan. 1 of this year, when the hotel officially became a luxury-tier JW Marriott property. A revised schedule called for everything to be complete by October.
Now, while the upgraded and expanded meeting space that was the primary impetus for the massive project will be ready to welcome the first groups by late November, it will be next year before the recreational space and new guestrooms are complete.
“I feel safe saying we’ll have the entire enchilada by March,” said Amanda Cox, the hotel’s new director of sales and marketing.
Weather has also been a factor, with record-breaking rain during the area’s wettest winter recently, and heavy rains this summer, contributing to slow progress, he said. But within two weeks, rain should be much less of a factor.
“We’re almost all dried-in. In another 10-14 days, we won’t really be weather-sensitive anymore,” she said.
In the meantime, the interior spaces are being readied, and temporary air conditioning units keep the workers comfortable. A hardhat tour of the construction area, conducted by destination sales executive Steve Lawrence, gave the preview the hotel has been showing off to meeting planners and event coordinators.
“Meeting planners get buzzed about congestion,” he said. “We have these two doorways that open up to 30 feet wide coming out of the (third floor) Calusa Ballroom – it’s an unbelievable wow factor.”
The “million-dollar view” out over the Gulf of Mexico and the beach in front remain a major selling point, along with the 24 and 22-foot ceilings in the ballrooms and the freight elevators that can accommodate a car or light truck.
Tourist season, said Lawrence, isn’t really a big concern for group business, in which companies and organizations operate on their own schedules.
“Our goal is to fill the off-season shoulder months,” he said.
Even during this traditionally slowest time of the year, the hotel is at 100 percent occupancy, said Cox. All of the hotel’s existing guest rooms have been upgraded to JW-level, and have been open since Jan. 1.
“We are blessed that demand for Marco Island is high,” said Cox. The continued closed status of the neighboring Marco Island Hilton, as well as buzz about the hotel’s status as the newest JW Marriott, and the only one in the U.S. to combine spa, beach and golf contributes as well, said Medwedeff.
The hotel’s new status brings in higher-spending customers, and bringing them at this time of the year helps local merchants, he said.
“These are groups who don’t want to be in a convention center environment, but they do need large-volume event space,” said Cox.
One sign that the end of construction is near will be obvious to residents by the end of the year, she said.
“The last crane is coming down, from Aug. 21 to 24. On the 24th, 14 trucks will come haul it away, and we’ll have a farewell party for it. It’s a huge milestone.”
For a virtual look at the website created by the hotel to monitor the status of its transformation, go online to paradisejw.com.