Developers of a new downtown hotel in the historic Atlas Life building are looking toward a possible mid-May opening, with 30 percent of the work having been completed since ground was broken on the project in late March.
Jeff Hartman--one of the partners in SJS Hospitality, a Broken Arrow-based company--said work on the firm's planned Courtyard by Marriott location at 415 Boston Ave. is proceeding on time and meeting the project's $15.2 million budget. He expects the hotel to open sometime between the middle of May and the middle of June.
"Our construction company (Thomas Construction of Osage Beach, Mo.) always hits our target date by seven to 10 days," he said.
The 118-room project will result in a major reworking of the 87-year-old Atlas Life Building, which is also home to the Atlas Grill and the Tulsa Press Club.
Hartman said demolition work has been completed from the 12th floor down to the basement, with the exception of the first floor, which will remain largely intact because of its historic significance. The Atlas Life building, which formerly housed Atlas Life Insurance Company, has downtown city landmarks from its neon sign and large rooftop figure. Framing for the entire building is nearly complete, and Hartman said plumbing and electrical work continues, too, while workers are hanging sheet rock on the seventh through 12th floors.
"In addition, we've completed the restoration of the outside brick and the terra cotta Atlas figure on the roof; completed the asbestos and lead abatement; and the windows have been repainted on the outside," he said.
New interior windows have been added, as well, he said.
Next on the to-do list for the 40 to 60 construction workers a day who populate the site is the completion of the sheet rocking, electrical and plumbing work, as well as installation of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and sprinkler systems.
"By January, we will start in with our furniture, and our carpet will be installed three or four floors at a time, starting at the top," Hartman said.
He said the only hurdle encountered so far has been the installation of an additional ventilation system required by Marriott. But he downplayed the impact of that unanticipated expense.
"On any project, especially a rehabilitation of a historic building when you include a franchise, you're going to have to meet them in the middle," he said.
SJS also has plenty of experience with its contractor. Hartman said Thomas Construction has completed 15 previous hotel projects for the firm, including Marriott, Holiday Inn and Candlewood Suites.
That relationship likely has been put to the test by the requirements of rehabilitating a building that gained a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in June. That designation greatly limits any changes to the building's appearance, interior or exterior, and it represented a particular challenge on the seventh floor, which Hartman said had remained virtually untouched since 1922.
So that floor's existing frosted glass doors had to be retained--a difficult proposition, given Marriott's standards for guest security and key card entry. So did its terrazzo flooring and hard plaster ceiling.
"We were able to work through that," Hartman said. "Marriott has a lot of experience working through these adaptive reuses."
Renovating a historic structure essentially means that developers are allowed to clean it up--but not too much, he said.
"They still want to see that 1922 dirt," he said, smiling.
"They don't want it to stick out like a new building."
The seventh floor will be home to the hotel's Atlas Suite, a two-bedroom suite with a large living area that overlooks Boston Avenue. Also located on that floor will be a large boardroom and nine other guest rooms, all of which can be rented as a group. Elevator passengers would need a special key to access the floor, he said.
"We hope to market that to the entertainment market," Hartman said, referring to performers who are booked into the nearby BOK Center, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame or Performing Arts Center.
The hotel's lobby will be located on the second floor, with guests entering on the first floor and taking an elevator or the stairs to reach it.
"It's going to be the last floor to be completed," Hartman said. "It has most of the features and amenities to complete, so there's a lot going on."
In addition to the reception desk, located across from the elevators, the second floor will be the site of a large meeting room, a workout facility, a library and the Bistro Bar, the Marriott's restaurant that will be open for breakfast and dinner.
Hotel guests who don't wish to leave the building for lunch will have the opportunity to dine at the Atlas Grill on the first floor, which underwent a renovation of its own in early July. The 10-day renovation included new lighting and furniture, as well as the creation of a pair of striking murals on dining room walls.
No changes are planned for the Tulsa Press Club, he said. Both the Press Club and the Atlas Grill have continued operating as work proceeds on the rest of the building.
A satellite location and gift shop for the Tulsa Historical Society also will be located on the first floor in space donated by SJS.
The hotel will not have its own parking garage, but Hartman said valet parking will be available, and guests who wish to park their own vehicles will be directed to nearby lots or garages.
The building's iconic neon Atlas Life sign will be retained, and Hartman said exterior Courtyard by Marriott signage would be minimal, with a small vertical sign located one or two stories up on the corner of the building.
The hotel also will have an arrangement with the nearby Mid-Continent Tower for use of its meeting space. Hartman said that building has a room that can seat 200 guests for a banquet-style event, as well as a theater that seats 80 to 100 people.
Next spring's anticipated opening will bring to a close a fairly lengthy process for SJS, which began negotiating with the building's owner, Kanbar Properties, in 2007. The two parties finally settled on a price of $1.7 million in 2009, and work on the renovation began six months ago.
Hartman believes the timing of the hotel's opening should coincide with an economic recovery. The hotel already has started accepting bookings for the summer of 2010 and beyond.
"I really think so," he said. "I don't have a crystal ball, and I wish I did, but history tells me when we have a down economy, and we've had several over the years, if you can start and work through a project in that down time, the economy will be on the upswing by the time you're finished," he said.
Even if other downtown hotel projects are announced in the future, Hartman isn't fretting over the competition.
"We'll be ahead of a couple of our competitors by a couple of years," he said. "And we're very happy the (newly opened) Mayo (Hotel) is right down the street from us. That's a great springboard for our opening seven or eight months after them."
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