April 25, 2013

Portland hotel renaming to include a bit of misdirection

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Imagine this: A bag-toting tourist walks into a Portland bar.

click image to enlarge

This is an artist rendering of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, which is keeping the Eastland sign for historic reasons demanded by the Portland City Council.

click image to enlarge

This is the artist rendering of the completed "Top of the East" expansion, doubling the size and the views of the surrounding Greater Portland areas. The Eastland sign will remain, demanded by the Portland City Council, but the hotel will be called the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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"Where do I find the Westin Hotel?"

The bartender pauses, squints.

"You mean the Eastland?"

"I mean the Westin. I heard it's near the West End."

While Abbott and Costello may be chuckling in their graves, when the former Eastland Park Hotel reopens at the end of this year, its new name and signs will mix some directional metaphors that could prove vexing.

The 289-room hotel will be rechristened the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, while its iconic sign will continue to proclaim it "EASTLAND." Developers have shown an early rendering with the "Westin" brand name attached above the larger, historic lettering.

To further muddy the nomenclature, the hotel's penthouse bar will keep its longtime name, "Top of the East."

"That's a whole confusing mess to me, the Westin Eastland," said Rick Goduti, a passer-by outside the brick hotel, which is in the midst of a top-to-bottom renovation. "It's too bad. Why do they want to change it?" Goduti asked.

From a branding perspective, Westin Hotels has a solid reputation from which to draw, said Barbara Whitten, chief executive officer of the Convention + Visitors Bureau in Portland -- of which the Westin is a member.

Still, "as traditional Maineiacs, we do like things to stay the same," she said.

Christ Kast, brand strategist for the Brand Co., an advertising and media company in Portland, said the business will have four names, casting doubt on whether the new owners did their local research.

"It may just be a case that the brand folks didn't have Westin doing the local reconnaissance they needed to do," said Kast, who has 30 years of advertising and branding experience.

The "Harborview" portion of the name, with its similar ring to another hotel in town, also gave him pause.

"Am I going to the Portland Harbor Hotel or the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel?" Kast said. "They've built themselves a naming confusion box."

Keeping the historic signage was not entirely of their choosing.

Bruce Wennerstrom, general manager of the new hotel, said the decision to keep the sign was reached after a three-hour meeting with city officials.

Wennerstrom shrugged off a suggestion of some East-West confusion, though.

"The Eastland is such a beloved name," he said. "It was determined that name would never leave the building."

He may be all too right.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:


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