Crystal Pernici vividly remembers her first impression of the Grand Orlando Palms -- soon to reopen as GreenPoint Kissimmee.
Before joining GreenPoint Hospitality as vice president of market strategy, Pernici sold hotel management software. "I actually came into this property when it was under the previous ownership," she said. "And I turned around and walked out. It was drug-infested, dark, and dreary. It was bad. Now we're finally seeing it come to life."
GrowthSpotterdetailed in Part 1 of this series how three architecture students from Argentina formed a friendship that would last decades, leading them to pursue value-add condominium buys in Florida, and develop the GreenPoint Hotels brand from scratch.
GreenPoint Kissimmee will be the first of four renovated hotels to open under the new brand. Construction delays have pushed the original opening date from June to August.
"I think it will come together quickly now that all the electrical and plumbing is done and the walls are up," Pernici said.
Converting the 43-year-old property into the flagship for a new hotel brand took months of planning, sourcing and strategizing before the vision could become reality.
"Our executive team met over a couple of weeks, sat in several hours of sessions and really went over the core values and the core structures: who we are today, what we're going to stand for and how we're going to act on that," Pernici said. "How we're going to train the staff, how we're going to handle customer service, you know, what the priority level is going to be -- which for us is huge. Just because we're select service and the guest is getting a more reasonable price, they shouldn't have to sacrifice service."
The partners developed and tweaked the design scheme. To achieve the look they were going for, all of the Kissimmee hotels would have to be completely gutted and virtually rebuilt.
At GreenPoint Kissimmee, contractors have replaced all of the electrical and most of the plumbing, all the boilers and every air conditioning unit. The entire roof was replaced, which allowed them to raise the ceiling height in the lobby and dining area.
They are replacing every railing and door, and plan to resurface the parking lot. The connecting rooms were no longer up to code, so those interior walls and doors had to be rebuilt.
Founding partner Pablo Hoberman said all four partners agreed that for the $80-$90 nightly rate, they should provide basic amenities: a gym, breakfast, wifi, parking, and a clean room.
"When you go to Orlando you are going to the parks," he said. "You're not staying at the hotel the whole day – that's not the plan. You want to go to Walt Disney or Universal."
When it came to design, they had a blank slate. They wanted a brand that was unique and modern and could still rent for up to $100 a night.
"I'm the typical business traveler," Rodrigo Calabrese said. "I spend a lot of nights outside my house. I know what I need – and it's not much."
While the more upscale GreenPoint Doral targets business travelers, the three Kissimmee hotels are designed to appeal to families. "We understand you have different needs for corporate travelers and leisure," Calabrese said. "So, for example, we only have nine (king-size beds) in Orlando because we know it's mostly families."
Other features are universal. The partners selected newly tiled showers with upgraded plumbing to improve the water pressure. Calabrese made three trips to China to source materials, such as rainhead shower faucets and security boxes.
The "bed experience" was another point of emphasis. GreenPoint partnered with Sealy to develop its own mattress. "We came up with a bed that's an excellent sleeping experience to most guests," Calabrese said. A limited number of upgraded rooms will offer Tempur-Pedic mattresses.
He traveled to South America to source the furniture, and designed a streamlined cabinet system that goes into each guest room. The system incorporates a desk and cubbies to fit the microwave oven, room safe and refrigerator. "It's such a simple and clean desgn," he said. "We put a lot of emphasis on this piece of furniture. It's flexible and easy to install, but yes, expensive."
Some choices that made sense aesthetically turned out to be totally impractical. For example, the original bathroom design called for a solid glass pane instead of a shower curtain. Pernici said they realized the glass wall limited the shower space, and made it impossible for the housekeeping staff to reach the faucet without literally climbing into the shower.
As the project came together, the design concepts began to take shape. Early renderings showed textured wall treatments, and red and white lacquered furniture gave way to a cleaner, streamlined design.
"We discussed it a lot," partner Pablo Hoberman said. "We wanted to have a lot of involvement. As architects we believe that our eye is a trained eye."
The design concept is light and modern. Carpet was replaced with low-maintenance, stylish vinyl plank flooring that looks like bamboo. A custom-vanity features a white vessel sink and open shelving. Anything as superfluous as a throw blanket or wall art was eliminated. Even the oversized headboards eventually were replaced with a vinyl wall mural.
"Headboards and color schemes can quickly look dated," Pernici said. "We wanted a look that was unique, clean, sanitary and long-lasting."
They started out with three color schemes but narrowed it down to two -- eco and contemporary-- after realizing the third option wasn't popular with the investors.
The plush bedding will be all white. The windows will be dressed with white shades and curtains.
Calabrese said they want the brand to be flexible, but consistant. "What we're trying to achieve here is when you step into GreenPoint you have the same feeling in all the properties," he said.
GreenPoint upgraded the fire safety system, retiled and resurfaced the pool and bought new outdoor furniture. The company is taking advantage of a grant from the W192 Development Authority to install new monument signs that comply with the corridor standards. Another grant will pay half the cost of landscaping improvements.
"I know people are reluctant to get rid of the tall signs, but with all the investment we're putting into these hotels, it doesn't make sense to keep the old signs," Pernici said. "That was a very 1980s form of sales. The way we market hotels online today, you can't afford to wait for someone to drive by and try to see a sign, the room should be sold before they ever reach the street."
GreenPoint Celebration is undergoing a similar transformation. The new roof has yet to be installed, but workers are reframing all of the doorways to fit the new doors. The drywall is up and paint will be going on the walls in a few weeks.
Demolition hasn't started yet at GreenPoint Essential, the former Parkside Inn. Dumpsters were delivered to the property this month.
"The goal is to open the hotels and have them staggered every three to five months," Pernici said. "By this time next year, we expect to have four completed projects."
The company signed a deal with Expedia to provide a concierge station and theme park shuttle service at GP Kissimmee and GP Celebration. Gaby Rojas, general manager for GP Kissimmee, said the concierge will assist guests with ticket purchases and reservations.
"It's important to have that one-on-one interaction," Rojas said.
Each hotel will also have rental cars available on site and 24-hour sundry stores. Both hotels will offer full breakfast with hot items, and will have a Nespresso coffee bar that transitions at night into a rum bar with late night food service. The company is in discussions with Tampa's award-winning Cigar City Brewing to be the official craft beer at the hotels.
Rojas, who previously managed reservations at the Four Seasons Miami and was part of the pre-opening team for Miami's J.W. Marriott Marquis, is busy ordering inventory for the hotels -- everything from shampoos to staff uniforms. In about three weeks, she will start hiring front desk personnel for GP Kissimmee.
Though it's nearly twice as many rooms, GP Celebration has a smaller lobby and less common space. What it lacks in green space and amenities, it makes up for in location.
The hotel is just east of the W192/Interstate 4 interchange, directly across from Old Town. It's in a pocket of redevelopment, where older hotels are being renovated or replaced with new facilities like the Fairfield Inn that just opened last month.
"The location of our hotels is just so prime," Rojas said. "We picked the right place."
She and Pernici have been activating the hotels' Google listings and registering accounts with third-party sites, like Yelp!, Yellow Pages and travel sites, such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor. They are taking reservations online from November forward.
"Just to be safe," Pernici said. "Of course we want to get our doors open and start generating revenue, but we're not going to open a hotel that's not up to our standard. We want to build a brand, and we want to do it right. This is our first hotel."
Both Kissimmee and Celebration will likely open in phases as soon as the common spaces are completed, Hoberman said.
"All the common areas will be done from Day One," he said. "Instead of opening the whole hotel at once, we may open 50 percent of units and common area."
Pernici said GreenPoint will likely wait until the Parkside Inn is complete to hold a grand opening. They're planning a progressive party with shuttles transporting guests to each of the completed hotels.