You never know what you're going to find, Jeff Hartman says, when you start mucking around in a building that was erected in 1922.
In the case of the Atlas Life Building -- which Hartman's company, Broken Arrow-based SJS Hospitality, has been remodeling into the new Courtyard by Marriott-Tulsa Downtown -- there weren't too many surprises, other than its remarkable sturdiness, he said.
"It was built like a mountain," Hartman said of the historic structure at 415 S. Boston Ave. "So solid. Some of the walls in the basement and first floor are three feet thick. It's not going anywhere."
When SJS broke ground on the $15.2 million project in March 2009, Hartman had no way of knowing how challenging the renovation would be. He had opened three hotels previously, but all those were new, free-standing buildings. This was to be his first remodel -- a historic one, at that. So when he set an anticipated opening date of late May 2010, Hartman wasn't entirely confident things would come together that quickly.
He needn't have worried. The Courtyard by Marriott-Tulsa Downtown will open as planned on June 1.
"We set that target date over a year ago, and we're coming in under budget," Hartman said proudly after providing a tour of the new hotel last week.
As construction crews put the finishing touches on the project, moving contemporary furniture into the guest rooms and installing new, state-of-the-art appliances, Hartman talked about what his hotel's 119 new rooms will mean to downtown.
"We feel the market is there for the kind of hotel we've built," he said. "Is there all of the sudden going to be a 10 percent higher demand (for rooms) downtown? No, but we're going to get there.
"We need more high-quality, branded hotels; although we do have a number of boutique hotels," he said. "To be a boutique hotel and carry a name means a lot. There was no Marriott brand in downtown Tulsa."
The new Courtyard by Marriott will serve as the flagship hotel for SJS, which also operates a Candlewood Suites, a Holiday Inn Express & Suites and a Marriott TownPlace Suites. Hartman hopes the new hotel will be particularly attractive to touring entertainment companies that book extended runs at the nearby Performing Arts Center, and he's already had conversations with PAC officials toward that end.
One feature of the new hotel that is likely to make it attractive to those groups, Hartman believes, is its historic seventh floor, which has been restored, leaving its gray marble floors and walls, hard plaster ceilings and wooden baseboards intact. Elevator passengers would need a special key to access the floor when all its rooms are rented to one group, he said, contributing to a greater sense of security.
The floor features nine guest rooms, a boardroom and the Atlas Suite, a two-bedroom suite with a living room and dining room that overlooks Boston Avenue and the iconic Atlas Life neon sign. The building's recently earned listing on the National Register of Historic Places dictated that the floor's original frosted glass doors be retained -- a major challenge from guest security and key card entry perspectives.
Designers overcame that hurdle by placing the key card slots on the wall next to the doors, which are magnetically locked and feature a secure backing behind the glass.
The hotel lobby is located on the second floor, with the reception desk featuring a modern, open design. The entire west end of the floor is intended to serve as a gathering spot for hotel guests, with the Bistro Bar, open for breakfast and dinner with a full bar; a library that features an inventory of 25 percent local subject matter; three "media pods," which are private booths, each with a 20-inch television; a home theater center; an eight-chair, marble-top communal table; a business center; complimentary wireless Internet service; and a "Go Board," a large, LED touch-screen operated computer with a data base of local attractions that also permits guests the opportunity to print airline boarding passes. Outlets can be found throughout the space for guests who need to recharge their laptop computers or cellular phones.
All those features are designed to promote social interaction, which Marriott's marketing studies have revealed is something that appeals to guests from generations X and Y, Hartman said.
And, Something for Gen Z
Guest rooms throughout the hotel received new interior storm windows, while the original outer windows were retained -- another requirement that went along with the building's historic status.
The first floor of the building -- home to the Atlas Grill, the Courtyard Deli and the Tulsa Press Club -- has remained largely intact, though it has been spruced up. A new addition will be a downtown office for the Tulsa Historical Society, which will showcase the history of the building and offer Tulsa memorabilia for sale.
Hartman said three other spaces on the first floor will be available for lease soon. One is 1,000 square feet, while the other two are 450-square-foot spaces. He said he intends to begin actively seeking tenants for those spaces within 30 days of the hotel's opening, and he hopes to land such businesses as a travel agency or day spa -- "Services that match up with the hospitality industry," he said.
The building does not have its own parking garage, but valet parking will be available, Hartman said. Guests who wish to park their own cars will be directed to nearby lots or garages.
A 1920s-themed grand opening celebration is planned for Aug. 19. Hartman hopes the smooth ride the property experienced through its renovation continues through its new life as a hotel.
"I think it really worked out the way we intended it to two years ago," he said. "Would I do it again? Yes."
All he'll have to do is find another historic building. But with all the space available downtown these days, that should be something an entrepreneur like Hartman should welcome.
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