Sunday, March 9, 2014
Portland’s historic Eastland Hotel turned away former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1946 because she wanted her dog, Fala, to stay in her room.
The “S” of the old Eastland Hotel sign is visible out the window of the 15th-floor Presidential Suite of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel. The hotel is keeping the iconic Eastland sign along its roofline as a nod to its past.
Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer
The Ballroom of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, formerly the Eastland, receives finishing touches in preparation for its grand reopening Thursday.
Now, with a $50 million renovation, new owners and a new name – the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel – any guest’s dog will be welcome in a hotel that marries tradition with modern service and style.
“It highlights the revitalization of a historic property with the coupling of modern, upscale amenities,” said Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism. “It’s an important renovation, and the mix of old and new really helps make it a destination property.”
Although it will open Thursday under the Westin name, the hotel will keep the iconic Eastland sign along its roofline as a nod to its past. The hotel first opened in 1927 as The Eastland and later operated as the Eastland Park Hotel before it closed two years ago for the renovation.
“The Eastland is part of the DNA, the fabric of the community. People have a love affair with what used to be,” said General Manager Bruce Wennerstrom. “We want to share the great history, story and heritage while providing another 85 years of great memories.”
The hotel has hosted such celebrities as aviator Charles Lindbergh, four U.S. presidents and Ozzy Osbourne, who was escorted out of the city after one of his parties in the rooftop pool led to furniture being tossed onto the street. The pool was closed after other guests started mimicking the rock star’s furniture-throwing.
The original hotel took a year to build at a cost of $2 million. The renovations cost $50 million and took a year and a half. The Westin will open Thursday as Maine’s largest hotel, with 289 rooms.
“It would have been easier to build a brand new hotel from scratch than to build a hotel inside the historic framework,” Wennerstrom said.
But the pairing of historic details – such as the carved stairway into the ballroom, the tops of the decorative columns in the main lobby and the historic door into the restaurant – along with an expanded Top of the East lounge, conference spaces and a spa run by Akari, will make the hotel a unique draw, he said.
BOON FOR AN EXPANDING MARKET
The Westin, with room rates ranging from $150 to $450 and a $1,400-per-night presidential suite, is entering a market that already has several hotel projects in the works.
Near Portland’s waterfront, a 131-room Courtyard by Marriott is being built at the corner of Commercial and Maple streets, and a 123-room hotel is under construction on Fore Street. On Congress Street, a 110-room boutique hotel is planned in the former Portland Press Herald building.
And two hotels opened in the past four years – a 179-room Residence Inn by Marriott and a 122-room Hampton Inn.
Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said the Westin hotel at Congress and High streets “is an iconic destination that has been around for more than 80 years. It’s been the focus of hospitality in Portland for generations. That it’s opening with a beautiful renovation is a boon for the market.”
“Along with the Holiday Inn by the Bay,” he said, “it introduces an excellent property to help attract citywide conventions.”
Ouellette, with the Maine Office of Tourism, said the Westin adds a property at the upper end of the spectrum, while the other hotels fill niches for business travelers and tourists.
“Each of the branded properties all provide a certain level of service. The mix of hotels, prices and service offerings makes this a better destination overall,” Ouellette said.
OFF-SEASON TO CHALLENGE HOTELS
The Westin brand is part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. New Castle Hotels and Resorts and RockBridge Capital, a hotel investment firm, bought the former Eastland hotel in 2011. New Castle operates other properties in Maine, including the Hilton Garden Inn next to the Portland International Jetport and the Four Points Sheraton at the Bangor International Airport.
“This is the first flagship property in Maine for Westin/Starwood. It is that next step for the state and really fills a needed part of the market,” Ouellette said.
Dugal said it may take several years for the Portland market to absorb several new properties and find the right pricing strategies.
“It’s going to be interesting to see. Summer will take care of itself, but it’s the off-season that will require some period of adjustment,” he said.
“We haven’t been far off Boston numbers in the summer for the past few years,” Dugal said. “So the market can absorb an upper-end hotel in those months. The Westin is in a good niche because it creates additional rooms in that class. It’s the off-season when people will be looking for deals.”
LOTS OF ROOM FOR BIG EVENTS
Lodging revenues in Maine rose 5.9 percent in the first nine months of this year over the same period a year ago, according to the state’s Office of Policy and Management.
Hotel occupancy in Portland increased 4.6 percent in the first 10 months of the year, to 64.2 percent, according to the travel research firm STR. Occupancy rates ranged from a low of 37.5 percent in January to a high of 86.7 percent in August.
The average daily rate for a single room was $116.98 over the first 10 months of the year, up 5.5 percent from a year ago. The average rates ranged from $86.52 in January to a peak in August of $146.15, according to STR.
“There’s always variables such as the economy and weather, but I think there’s strong enough demand that there won’t be much price slippage in the market,” said Wennerstrom, the new hotel’s manager. “A lot of people who couldn’t get into the Portland market started moving into South Portland. So now there’s more opportunity to stay in Portland and have access to full services.”
Wennerstrom said the other hotels being developed won’t have the full range of services, such as a ballroom that can host as many as 300 people for dinner or 600 for a meeting, as well as conference spaces.
The hotel has already booked 12 weddings, many involving people whose parents or grandparents got married at the Eastland, Wennerstrom said.
“Among the other properties, there’s no place to have a full-size wedding,” he said. “We’re going after groups and events, as well as people looking for the Westin brand. People get very loyal to a brand.”
Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:
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