As the author of a couple of articles in the past year regarding the expansion and remodel of the Hotel Del Coronado, I thought I had a reasonable grasp of the project’s details. It didn’t take long during recent tour of the resort hotel, first constructed in 1888, to realize the project was way beyond my initial level of understanding. The original three-year remodel, costing $200 million, now has a $400 million price tag and touches nearly every part of the existing structure, as well as several new components.
My tour guides were Director of Marketing Sara Harper and Director of Public Relations Stacey Ellis and we covered much of the existing property, complete with an eclectic mixture of hotel guests and workers bustling around. Part of the work involved the construction of the Hotel Del’s traditional outdoor ice skating rink that will open Nov. 22 and run through Jan. 5, 2020. Of course the rink comes complete with its own Frostbite Lounge, where skaters can conveniently find food and drink nearby.
Other traditions relating to this time of year at the Hotel Del Coronado were described by Harper. “We’re having our Holiday Festival Dec. 11 from 4-7 p.m., with fireworks at 6:45 p.m. And kids will perform their holiday concert. Something that is new this year, on New Year’s Eve, we are doing a movie on the beach with fireworks. And we will show the ball drop from Times Square on the big screen for families at 9 p.m. Also on New Year’s Eve, there will be gala in the ballroom and the theme is ‘Masked Ball.’ The Babcock and Story Bar will have live entertainment. The Mighty Untouchables will be the band for the Gala. Serea Restaurant and Shearwater Restaurant will both have two seatings for New Year’s Eve, a special menu, and a view of the fireworks that will be really cool.”
In all likelihood, the portion of this article that will have the most immediate impact on residents and visitors to the city, is the main entrance to the Hotel Del Coronado will be changed twice before late 2021. The first change, which will occur today, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, is the current entrance off of Orange Avenue will close forever and will move to R.H. Dana Place. In addition, a new three-level parking garage, with 729 parking spaces, will open Wednesday off the new driveway at the north end of the property. Eventually a new grand entrance will be constructed, and guests will enter the hotel via Avenida del Sol. The top level of the new parking structure will be designated for valet parking, while the bottom two levels, both underground, will be for self-parking.
Major construction elements often come with their own fact sheet, and that is true of the new North Parking lot. According to Ellis, “The structure was completed in 54 weeks with more than 65,000 hours of labor. In addition, 5,700 truckloads of soil were removed to make way for almost 19,000 cubic yards of concrete. With the opening of the garage comes 19 electric vehicle spaces (and more to come), bike parking, valet parking and self-parking is, again, an option.”
Unfortunately, with the major reimagination of the property, there are also the likelihood of temporary layoffs. As an example, the Spa and Salon on the property are being totally reconfigured, merging what had been on two floors, into one level. The concepts of relaxation at a spa and major construction are mutually exclusive.
Harper said of the temporary layoffs, “This was not a surprise. The state legally requires us to notify them of any potential people who could potentially be laid off. The people have been notified, but they may or may not be laid off. That is still being worked out. All team members who are temporarily laid off, stay in the system and will receive health benefits. They can move into open positions and pick up hours when they can and also collect unemployment for the reduced hours they are experiencing. We’re doing our best to minimize the impact, and we don’t expect that (an estimated 160 layoffs) to be the total number of people laid off. We are exploring employment opportunities with other Hiltons, where people can work temporarily in another hotel. The number of letters that went out was a small percentage of our work force in total. We are working now to understand at the conclusion of the project, what the employment impact will be. We’ll be adding jobs created by the project and the hotel itself. We’re adding 142 rooms, so we will be adding housekeepers and staff.”
Harper outlined many of the coming improvements to the Hotel Del Coronado, roughly in chronological order. “We’re putting a bow on Year 1 of the project. Phase One included the remodel of Serea Restaurant, the new Vista Terrace, and construction of the North Garage. Phase Two has started, including enhancements to the 97 Cabana guestrooms, the main swimming pool, the sun deck and Eno are all currently undergoing restoration. There will be work on the bar located outside of Shearwater, which will be renovated. And there is an expansion of the restrooms. The bakery will be closed down and folded into the new Eno Market and Pizzeria, which will have a great pizza oven and free outdoor seating. It will be like a piazza, where people can listen to music and go shopping. Then the retail shops will be remodeled in two phases. The shops near the entrance will be closed first, and when they reopen the rest of the stores in the corridor will be restored. In February 2020, the spa and fitness area will start their reimagination. The fitness area will be expanded to take over the Salon space, and the spa area will be completely renovated. The space will be reconfigured to incorporate the Spa and the Salon on one level. The fitness area will still be downstairs. A spa terrace will be added at the entrance and will include a juice bar, and yoga classes, in the area where the cactus garden is now.”
Harper continued, “As we move the entry Nov. 20 to R.H. Dana, the current main entry will close down, and the south side of the property will be prepped for the new building. At the same time, the historic preservation in the area will continue. The whole south area will open at once in late 2021. There will be a new signalized intersection at Avenida Del Sol, so everything in that areas has to be completed. Then on the south side, the Oxford Building will be undergoing renovation in March or April of 2020. Then work in the Icehouse Museum (a museum devoted to the History of the Hotel Del Coronado) will begin. In August of 2020, the Ocean Towers, the guest rooms and exterior will be renovated. They will use clear glass instead of dark railings. The Sun Deck is going to be redone and renamed. It will have a rooftop bar vibe and it will be music forward with live entertainment and a better connection to the pool. There will be a larger kitchen there, with more of a deeper food offering than it has had in the past. It will be a social scene and a lively space. There’s a lot happening next year for sure. The work is being staggered and thought out from a development perspective to allow site prep work to happen, while disturbing the guest experience as little as possible. All the while they’re working to complete work on the Master Plan.”
An additional component to the Master Plan is the new Conference Center, which will accommodate events with between 800 and 1,000 guests. The facility will feature a 15,000 square foot, clear-span ballroom. That venue will open to a 14,000 square foot Great Lawn with views of the Victorian Building.
Most of what has been described thus far is either totally new or a modernization of an existing space. However, there is also a plan for the original Victorian building. Harper explained, “The focus on the Victorian building is about preservation and bringing it back to its original grandeur. Construction on the front porch starts May 2020 and 2021 is probably the time for the work on the Victorian building.”
When asked about the biggest challenge facing the staff during the three-year remodel, Ellis replied, “From a parking perspective, there’s been some compression in the South parking lot. With the parking structure opening on the North side, that solves a lot of problems present the last year or so. Parking was hard on the employees some days and that is solved now, which is great.”
In response to the same question, Harper said, “I would say the renovation work can be challenging at times. It’s not always clear when you are going to have a disruption from a noise perspective, which depends on the work. It’s an intricate game being prepared and planning to keep the operation going, while minimizing the disruption.”
And if you enjoy good food, there is news from the Hotel Del on that front as well. “The On the Rocks food truck was added when we closed the sun deck,” Harper said. “It was created right on the beach, and they serve burgers, salads, poke bowls, loaded fries and many great beverages. You can get food to go or stay there and sit on the deck. On The Rocks closes at sunset and we have conventions and groups using it for their events.”
Serea Restaurant, under the direction of Executive Chef JoJo Ruiz opened in June 2019 and Harper discussed the seafood eatery. “The reception has been incredible, and the real key is the sustainable seafood. The Surfrider Foundation certified it as sustainable seafood and Chef JoJo has been procuring seafood for the restaurant that is second to none. The seafood is from a locally sourced company and is incredibly fresh. To order a whole fish and have it served tableside is a wonderful interaction. And of course there is the view and the outdoor seating, which are nice compliments to the amazing cuisine.”
And another restaurant at the Hotel Del Coronado has been re-themed, as the Shearwater Restaurant is now the home of French Master Chef Patrick Ponsaty. Harper said of the restaurant, “We’re re-launching Shearwater Nov. 20 and there is a bit of a brasserie focus with steaks and chops. They serve a Tomahawk steak tableside. Chef Patrick is at the top of his game. In 2020, he’s is going to do a Master French Food Series with some of his friends who are French Chefs, and each month there will be a different Master French Chef working with Chef Ponsaty. We’ll have the names of the chefs nailed down in the next couple of weeks.”
So whether it’s restoration of existing buildings, construction of new buildings and parking structures, or fresh seafood and French food, the Hotel Del Coronado either has it all already, or it’s in the works.