Canadian developer Harry Stinson is learning just how difficult it is to reverse decades of decline at a giant aging hotel.
The new owner of the former Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo is spending tens of millions of dollars on a major renovation of the 40-year-old concrete edifice at 120 Church St.
He's redone the lobby and reopened a coffee shop, and his workers are finishing building new model guest rooms by the end of this week. New carpeting, signage, lighting and landscaping are still coming, and then there's the new attitude and service focus that he wants to instill in his staff.
"There’s a lot of housecleaning to do, a lot of changes. We can’t do it overnight," he said.
It's no easy task, given the years of disinvestment by prior owners, not to mention the sheer size of the property: 600,000 square feet on seven acres, with 484 hotel rooms, a 600-seat restaurant and a parking ramp.
"I’m still discovering more nooks and crannies of the building every day," Stinson said. "This is an enormous building, with hundreds of people on staff, and an awful lot of things that have to be addressed."
But Stinson said he doesn't regret his $17 million acquisition or the investment he's putting into the nine-story hotel.
"I think it's going to be turn out to be quite a home run," he said. "I wouldn’t have made the investment in the city if I didn’t see the potential."
When guests arrive for a New Year's Eve party in just over 50 days, Stinson wants them to see a whole new look and feel at Buffalo's largest hotel. "By New Year’s, this will be a completely different atmosphere and operation," he said. "When people come to the party, they will be very impressed."
Stinson, a veteran developer from Hamilton, Ont., bought the Adam's Mark in July from Corning-based Visions Hotels, a limited-service hospitality company that had owned it since 2009. He immediately announced a $30 million plan to transform it into the independent Buffalo Grand Hotel and restore its glory days as the city's leading conference hotel, with a focus on major events and hospitality.
Opened in 1978 as the Buffalo Hilton, the Adam's Mark has 72,000 square feet of meeting space, including what used to be a tennis club. It also includes 500 parking spaces.
That size is a key part of his strategy. "We’re very event-driven, And that is our objective, to rebuild the big events," he said.
Stinson also stressed the importance of the city investing in a new and enlarged convention center, regardless of which location is chosen.
"The city is on a bit of a roll now, and it should run with it," he said. "If we’re going to go after the events, we have to have a facility that will impress convention organizers. If the city doesn't even have the facilities, you're not in the running."
In the meantime, he's upgrading and refreshing his own hotel. That includes enhancing the food service, dining room, guest rooms, conference center, fitness facility, pool and spa.
"We're chugging away," he said. "Slowly the mindset is changing within the building and among the staff."
A new digital message board is coming within a month to replace the static sign that now advertises only the Harbor Bistro, allowing Stinson to promote whatever events and programming are happening on a given day.
And Stinson said he is planning to announce a small expansion that "will get international attention." He would not elaborate, but said "the feature that it will add will be quite cool and very appropriate for the City of Buffalo."
He also wants to increase the hotel's meeting space by at least 100,000 square feet in the next two years, capitalizing on the land he gained with the purchase. "We’re in that business already," he said. "This is why the hotel was bought, to do that."
It's a slow process, however, and the building's scale has posed a few challenges, such as finding enough carpeting in his chosen design. "I'm having mills say they don't even have enough carpet in stock of that color," Stinson said.
But occupancy has remained steady, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.
"This is something that people are going to judge on its appearances and judge on its services," he said. "The attitude has dramatically changed. I won’t say things are running perfectly yet, but the attitude changing is No. 1."