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Renovating for the inn crowd: Marriott focuses on smartphones, fitness-minded guests

The first floor of the newly-renovated Charlotte Marriott City Center, including this great room, includes 780 power outlets so guests won’t have to hunt for a place to charge their phone. Photo by Scott Baughman

The first floor of the newly-renovated Charlotte Marriott City Center, including this great room, includes 780 power outlets so guests won’t have to hunt for a place to charge their phone. Photo by Scott Baughman

The Charlotte Marriott City Center hotel is in the process of becoming more and less than it was before.

After more than a year of being under renovation, the landmark in uptown is reaching the end of a process that began in April 2015. Once finished, the venerable hotel will have gained eight rooms and lost a swimming pool.

The previous gym at the hotel was 700 square feet. The newly-renovated fitness center is 2,000 square feet. Photo by Scott Baughman

The previous gym at the hotel was 700 square feet. The newly-renovated fitness center is 2,000 square feet. Photo by Scott Baughman

But according to the hotel’s General Manager Chrissy Wright, it will also have gained a status as more of a test laboratory than standard hotel, at least as far as Marriott corporate executives are concerned.

“There are many features that we’ve included in our renovation project that are a test lab or trial run for the rest of the company,” Wright said during a recent tour of the not-quite-ready Marriott at 100 W. Trade St. in the Queen City. “For example, our fifth floor is our ‘Stay Well’ floor with 22 rooms that have features that focus on wellness like aromatherapy and an air-purification system.”

This centerpiece sculpture hangs in the great room. Photo by Scott Baughman

This centerpiece sculpture hangs in the great room. Photo by Scott Baughman

Also included on the ‘Stay Well’ floor is a focus on personalized lighting with three lighting components in each room and vitamin C infused shower heads.

Including the 22 new rooms, the hotel will have 446 rooms.

The hotel’s new attitude is much more focused on welcoming health-conscious business travelers than families on vacation. As a result, the pool and hot tub that were previously on the fifth floor are gone, replaced with an expanded fitness area. The old gym was a scant 700 square feet. The new fitness center is 2,000 square feet.

“We also offer over 600 classes you can take as a guest,” Wright said. “And we have a touchscreen display in the fitness center that is interlinked with the gyms and fitness companies nearby in the city to show you what classes they’re offering and when if you want to go join in.”

The touchscreen can also customize a map for a run around Uptown for guests, and then transmit the information to their smartphone so they can get their exercise outside if they prefer.

Hotel restaurant Stoke now includes an open kitchen design allowing guests to see every part of the process of preparing meals. Photo by Scott Baughman

Hotel restaurant Stoke now includes an open kitchen design allowing guests to see every part of the process of preparing meals. Photo by Scott Baughman

Integration with smartphones and tablets doesn’t stop there for the newly renovated facility. As part of another test lab project, the hotel is one of the first to feature Marriott’s new customer-loyalty program perk of checking in with a specialized app and then using a smartphone as a keycard to unlock your room.

“You can check in on your mobile device, right from your car, and have the key sent to your phone, and if you are a Marriott rewards member and check in through the app, you can use your mobile device as your key,” Wright said.

But for guests who want to check in the old-fashioned way the Marriott does still have a front desk, sort of.

“One more test case for us is the free-standing area for check in,” Wright said. “The hosts are all walking around, using tablets, to help guests check in from these open desks. Everyone is free to sort of roam around. If it works out well, it may be implemented companywide.”

And if you miss the pool, Wright says the hotel is happy to recommend swimming options nearby including the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Of course, not every innovation has been received well by guests. Early plans called for the removal of desks from the standard king-sized rooms of the hotel, but battle-hardened road warriors who are traveling salesmen and business tycoons balked at losing the workspace during long trips in which the Marriott – or other hotel room – basically became their office. With no desk to work from they found they couldn’t get as much done.

These steps that are above the entrance to the hotel’s underground parking garage were redesigned as a sitting area in the coffee shop. Photo by Scott Baughman

These steps that are above the entrance to the hotel’s underground parking garage were redesigned as a sitting area in the coffee shop. Photo by Scott Baughman

While millennials may be fine with propping up on the bed or reclining on the couch to swipe away their work on a tablet or smartphone, the more veteran members of America’s traveling business corps wanted that desk.

The hotel bar now has partnerships with several Charlotte-area craft breweries and includes more than 20 local craft beers on tap. Photo by Scott Baughman

The hotel bar now has partnerships with several Charlotte-area craft breweries and includes more than 20 local craft beers on tap. Photo by Scott Baughman

Wright said the Marriott listened and plans are underway now to make sure each double room will get a desk.

“We have adjusted the plan so that half of the hotel will have desks added before renovations are complete in September,” Wright said. “We also added sliding barn doors in the renovated rooms to make more space for updates to the bathrooms. When you have a 30-year-old building there just isn’t as much space with regard to opening bathroom doors. The sliding barn doors helped a lot with that.”

Also updated was the hotel’s restaurant, now called Stoke, with a focus on an open kitchen and dining area. And the hotel bar, part of Stoke, has partnered with Charlotte-area craft breweries to have more than 20 types of craft beer on tap. In keeping with the desires of a mobile and smartphone clientele, the hotel also now has 780 power outlets spread throughout the restaurant, bar and great room on the first floor so no one is hunting for a place to charge a phone.

The renovated meeting area now has 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 9,000 square foot ballroom.

The grand opening is scheduled for Oct. 11.

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