The city’s most historic hotel is about to reopen after a top-to-bottom renovation.
The Westin Portland Harborview Hotel – still identified by the sign on its side as the Eastland – will reopen Dec. 12, its general manager, Bruce Wennerstrom said.
Wennerstrom said that date is considered a “soft opening” for the High Street hotel, although it will be marked by a small amount of hoopla, such as a ribbon-cutting and tours of the new space. Wennerstrom said a more elaborate grand re-opening will take place in the spring.
The hotel has been undergoing a $50 million renovation that will increase the number of rooms from 201 to 289.
Originally called The Eastland, it operated under the name Eastland Park Hotel before it closed two years ago for renovation. The hotel originally opened in 1927 and hosted aviator Charles Lindbergh when he toured the country after returning from his solo flight across the Atlantic that same year. The hotel also famously turned away former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1946 when she wanted her dog Fala to be able to stay in her room.
The city in September agreed to sell about two-thirds of the adjacent Congress Square Plaza to the hotel’s owners, Rockbridge Capital, for slightly more than $520,000. The development company plans to use the space to build an art gallery and events center attached to the hotel, but the sale was opposed by Friends of Congress Square Park, which wanted to prevent the loss of downtown open space and sought to have the sale subject to a referendum vote.
A court hearing was held Wednesday in Portland on a lawsuit that challenges the city’s decision not to accept petitions calling for a vote on the sale. No immediate ruling was made.
Wennerstrom said the renovated hotel will have more rooms, but will retain two popular features – the rooftop Top of the East lounge, which will be twice as large – and the ballroom.
“So many people have contacted us because their mother got married there or their grandmother,” and they were concerned that the ballroom would be eliminated in the renovation, Wennerstrom said. “There’s so much nostalgia in that room.”
He said the addition of the rooms was accomplished by gutting the interior and realigning the rooms more efficiently.
Wennerstrom said the renovation is “right smack on schedule” and said crews have moved from heavy construction work to more detailed work such as laying carpet. He said a handful of the staff was kept on through the renovation and a sales staff recently got to work in a satellite office on Free Street to book weddings, meetings and make reservations for large groups. Interest has been strong, he said.
About 100 employees will be hired for the initial reopening of the hotel, he said. That workforce is expected to double by late spring.
Wennerstrom said he’s not concerned about an oversupply of hotel rooms in Portland, even with the upcoming addition of a Courtyard by Marriott being built on Commercial Street and the Hyatt Place hotel going up at Fore and Union streets, Those hotels, expected to open late next spring, will add about 250 rooms to the market.
Portland is a growing tourist destination, Wennerstrom said, and “the demand continues to rise.” Wennerstrom said it’s still difficult to get a room in the city on weekends despite the height of the fall season having passed.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]