Hotel Insider: How Adaptive Reuse Makes Meeting Spaces Shine

Meeting planners and regular travelers alike are always clamoring for the newest hotel properties and the latest and greatest in amenities. Sometimes, however, the oldest accommodations have the most to offer - especially when they’ve been updated in ways that provide modern conveniences without sacrificing character.

Technically, this process is dubbed “adaptive reuse.” In the hospitality world, the phrase is used to describe hotels that reside in buildings which weren’t always hotels. A growing number of hospitality companies are turning to adaptive reuse as a way to differentiate their respective products; a concerted effort to distinguish oneself with a touch of history. Some have done it better than others.

Photo by Peter Kubilus for GenslerThe Argonaut, for instance, a Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants property in San Francisco, was built in the old Haslett Warehouse, a turn-of-the (20th)-century building that once belonged to the California Fruit Canners Association (which later became Del Monte). Today, the hotel sits inside San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, and Mark Tuten, area director of sales and marketing, says groups pay extra to hold their events in the Visitor’s Center and Interactive Museum, which is located on-site.

“People like that they can take a break from their events to wander through the exhibits,” he says, noting that the hotel’s pre-function space is adorned with a mural that depicts what occurred in the warehouse during cannery times. “When we have receptions in there, the National Park Service also sends a docent who can educate people about what the facility has been over time.”

Other Kimpton properties have leveraged history in similarly innovative ways:

  • The Palomar in Philadelphia exists in the former (circa 1929) headquarters for the American Institute of Architects. To capture a sense of the Art Deco building’s history, designers moved the original library to a nook in the 25th floor ballroom; a spot that sees traffic during every major event. (The hotel also turned the old mail chute into an elevator bank; see the photo above)
  • The Hotel Monaco in Baltimore dates back to 1906, when it was opened as headquarters for the B&O Railroad. Today, meetings are held in a second-floor area dubbed the Living Room, and most participants climb one of two original marble staircases to get there.

Various hotel companies have embraced adaptive reuse, too. In 2009, Aloft, the new business traveler-centric brand from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, converted an old railroad depot into a hotel in downtown Dallas. In 2013, Hilton is expected to open a new Garden Inn in the former headquarters of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, one of the last remaining Romanesque buildings in the Midwest.

With all this reuse running rampant throughout the industry, it seems that old is young again. Just because a hotel is new doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better.

For more tips on celebrating old-news times, read An Old-Fashioned Soda Bar for Your Meeting and From Rockets to Battleships, Alabama Puts Excitement in Unique Venues.

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