There are the “pardon our appearance” signs and occasionally a workman in a florescent vest and wearing a hard hat, but otherwise it’s hard to believe the 266-room Crowne Plaza is in the midst of a $22 million renovation.
Inside, temporary walls have isolated construction areas from the rest of the hotel with its meeting rooms that continue to host conferences and gatherings, like the recent Kids Count event when more than 500 community leaders gathered for breakfast. And, although each of the rooms is being stripped down to the studs, bathrooms ripped out and corridors torn apart with the removal of moldings, lighting, wall fabric and carpeting, the Crowne continues to host guests – albeit not as many at one time as it once did.
If this all sounds too confusing to manage, meet Lynne Oscarson, who grew up in Warwick and started working at the Crowne after graduating from Marymount College 29 years ago.
Oscarson, appearing like she had just stepped off a fashion show runway in a beige jacket with matching high heels, started the tour in the former registration/reception area. A plasterer on a lift smoothed out the ceiling. Drop cloths were everywhere and a smoke-like haze – dust – hung in the air. Crews went about their work paying no attention to the newcomers entering their space.
In place of the long counter that once greeted guests, three “pods” will provide a more intimate environment for guests to make arrangements or inquiries. Overall, the area will be brighter with inset lighting crossing the ceiling. A café that will be open from 5 a.m. to the late night hours will be to one side. There will also be a “grab and go” where guests can pick up sandwiches, beverages and other foods.
“It’s going to be exciting and contemporary,” says Oscarson.
As part of the transition, the Crowne is moving away as a venue for dog shows that attracted people and their preferred breed of canine from across the country. Oscarson explains much of the grassy area used for the shows as rings for obedience trials and display has been converted to parking and in the future will become sites for office and medical-related buildings. This ties into the development of office buildings and the “medical campus” to the south of the hotel where Ortho Rhode Island recently broke ground for a $30 million facility that is all part of the 90-acre Carpionato Group property.
In addition to the business traveler, as host of activities such as the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy Ocean State Grand Nationals Karate Tournament, a convenient and centrally located and less costly alternative to Newport and Boston, Oscarson said a major portion of the Crowne business is youth sports groups competing in regional tournaments. And, of course, there are the weddings and, at this time of year, college graduations that bring in friends and family.
The Crowne has earned a reputation for Indian weddings with its preparation of special foods and, even for one wedding, the incorporation of a live elephant into the ceremony. Oscarson said it’s more common to have horses.
Once the registration area has been completed next month, the work crews will move to the current temporary desk area that will require some more temporary walls and rerouting of internal traffic. Meanwhile, starting on the top sixth floor, Timberline Construction that is managing the project, is going through the hotel floor by floor. So as to reduce the impact of guests, Oscarson explained, a floor of rooms is left vacant between the work area and that occupied by guests.
The project does not extend to the ballroom, atrium, rotunda and conference rooms, although some of the common space leading into those areas such as the Italian marble-floored corridor serving as the temporary entrance will get a new look.
Oscarson said throughout the construction the Crowne has been able to turn to its sister property, the Holiday Express on Jefferson Boulevard, to accommodate the overflow from the Crowne while booking events. At the height of its season, the Crowne employs 200 and the Holiday Express an additional 40.
A major part of the project – a new roof – has been completed. The full transition is to be done by December 31.
In the interim, Oscarson’s focus is keeping everything as clean as possible, running smoothly, filling rooms that aren’t being remodeled and providing guests a positive experience.