This is the fourth and final post in a series about historic inn preservation. Clovis Heimsath offers his tips based on the project to preserve the Country Place Hotel in Fayetteville, Texas. Maryann and Clovis Heimsath are both the hotel owners, and are associated with Heimsath Architects. The building was completely renovated and restored in 2003.
Tip #10: Zone the building for heating and air conditioning.
While the first floor rooms may be used throughout the week, bedrooms are occupied only part of the time. Individual units in each room can be desirable but may not the best solution. For the Zapp Building, we couldn't use the common "thru-wall" units. They would have been impossible to install in the solid masonry walls. We didn't want to ruin the views by placing units in the windows. We opted, instead, for a series of central air conditioning and heating systems. We placed a glass door in the second floor hallway to create two separate zones for the upstairs rooms.
Tip #11: Consider a fire sprinkler system.
Some jurisdictions will mandate these systems for any hotel. Others will provide some incentive for including them in the project. It is particularly important to be aware of historic and aesthetic issues when putting in a fire sprinkler system. The systems are quite costly and there are specified locations and clearances for the pipes and the sprinkler heads.
We've found that many of the installers have little or no sensitivity to the building or the look of their systems. In other situations, we have seen pipes run at odd angles and unsightly valves placed in unfortunate locations. For the Zapp Building, we chose a company that took the time to locate the components in such a way that they are unobtrusive. Finding a good location for the large valves and supply pipes took some serious consideration. By expanding a closet, we were able to meet code requirements without taking up valuable floor space. We opted for exposed pipes in the rooms, but located them near the walls and ceilings so they blend in with other building elements.
Tip #12: Develop a Business Plan and Market Plan.
Put into dollars every detail you know or are projecting. What is the cost of keeping the hotel open, even before any room is rented? What is the cost to clean and maintain each room after your guests leave? We made pretty good projections of our costs, and we regularly update them. So we know how the profit margins differ between the rental of one room versus the full hotel.
The market plan must have room rates. These should be in line with your target customers. For example, if you are projecting a full hotel during hunting season, is it realistic to project premium rates when there are cheap bunkhouses and camps in the area? With our refined accommodations, we rarely have hunters at our hotel, but occasionally we do get their spouses. You need to make realistic estimate for vacancies, and these may range widely during the different seasons of the year. Be especially conservative in projecting for the early years of start-up.
Tip #13: Determine dining arrangements:
Will you provide breakfast or other restaurant meals? After a short period of providing dinners as well as breakfast, we determined that a gourmet breakfast is a wonderful plus for our overnight guests but any further meal preparation is beyond the scope of an ordinary inn keeper. We did however place the kitchen so it can serve both our breakfast dining area and the large public room. For now we welcome catered parties. In the future if someone opened a full-time restaurant it could be serviced without radically modifying the kitchen.
Breakfast is served at the Country Place Hotel.
Tip #14: Think Public Relations from the beginning.
While the renovation took over nine months to complete, we showed the building to curious neighbors and visitors all during construction. This paid dividends. Many of our first guests were visiting relatives of our neighbors and visitors that had followed the construction. We established a website countryplacehotel.com and updated it often as the project was completed. Today the vast majority of our reservations come through the website. It is linked to Chamber of Commerce websites in neighboring cities.
Tip #15: Research reservation systems or services.
The Country Place Hotel is a small operation and we are able to service reservations in-house. This does require a significant commitment from one of our most dedicated staff members. At any hour, she knows that someone may call and she'll be ready to cheerily take a reservation while checking for availability. If for any reason, she misses or can't take the call, one of us is ready to call back within minutes.
For larger operations, reservation services may be a better option. Be sure to determine the cost per reservation, and be realistic about the number and frequency of calls you anticipate. Even more important, call the service regularly to check on the helpfulness and the tone of voice. The people taking those reservations are in every sense representing you and creating an impression about your inn.
Finally, jump in with enthusiasm!
Maryann smiles with pleasure as we recall the renovation process. Today we are delighted when the breakfast room is filled, many with returning guests and our close friends.
The old hand-pulled freight elevator is a favorite at the Country Place Hotel. The pieces aren't operable, but all the elements have been left in place with a display about the mechanical operation.
Would you like all 15 Tips in one place? Use the link below and we'll send you the full Historic Inn Preservation publication.