Novotel almost ready to reopen doors
Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square hotel is hosting a series of "trial guests" in the run-up to booked visitors being able to return from August 19 after a $20 million repair and rebuild.
General manager Carl Braddock has been through the opening of a new or revamped hotel many times in his career and is looking forward to showing off the latest hotel to return to Christchurch after the damaging earthquakes of 2010-11.
Other hotels, including the Ibis, also owned by the French Accor group, and the Rendezvous have already seen a demand for rooms in the city as tourists have returned and corporate business has continued.
Braddock said the 154-room, 13-storey Novotel has already been taking bookings on its website, though those bookings were now flowing through to the hotel's accommodation software systems following a physical "plug in" link between Accor's Australian operations and the Cathedral Square site. Room rates range from $209 up to $375 for an executive suite.
"On the first night we're expecting, from what we've been able to tell, about 50 rooms, about 30 per cent."
The hotel had already booked its first domestic conference for about 40 people at its "full level of conference facilities".
While the hotel was located close to the proposed convention centre, Braddock said it would be a tougher equation filling rooms now other hotels were returning and the city infrastructure still had to be rebuilt.
One drawcard initially would be the stricken cathedral, still standing at present in good view of many of the rooms, Braddock said.
The repair of the Novotel has been expensive, growing to about $20m from initial estimates more in the order of $3.6m. The great bulk of that was funded by insurance, Braddock said.
The rejig meant losing about 40 rooms when the adjoining historic Warners hotel next door was demolished.
Previously Accor had said both the Ibis and the Novotel had sufficient business interruption insurance, through a European insurer, to get through to their respective re-opening dates.
The Ibis had been repaired for about $10m before reopening in early September 2012, with that project run by Braddock and Ibis hotel manager Tim Dearsley.
To repair the hotel all the outside concrete panels on the north, west and south faces had been removed and replaced.
The panels weighed up to six tonnes each. The building is owned by United States hotel real estate company Host Hotels and Resorts, on land held by Christchurch investor Gordon Chamberlain.
"As a result of that, the strengthening of those panels has improved, the hanging of those panels has improved and panels now meet 100 per cent of the new code."
There had also been small amount of repair work on the structural shear walls.
A lot of the interior, particularly the gib work, had been redone, though a lot of the fittings such as televisions, as well as room and kitchen and dining area appliances, had been cleaned for the reopening.
The refit, including advice from Christchurch firm Dalman Architecture, has recreated the feel of the hotel which originally opened in January 2010.
"Every single item has been in storage for 30 months . . . [apart from] a dozen chairs that rotted, got damp. We had to throw them away and buy new ones. There's about a dozen of these tables got broken plus a dozen major TVs."
Staff were being employed gradually with the heads of departments having started a couple of weeks ago to be followed by supervisors and line staff, with an eventual complement of about 60 expected on board by the end of August.
Heads already employed include the head chef to help cater for two large dining areas. There are also an executive housekeeper, front office and revenue managers, food and beverage, and maintenance managers plus a financial controller.
Last week workers were completing some "remedial work" on gib and features of the 13th floor, and apart from that the hotel was ready to open, he said.
There would be a couple of retail spaces on the west side of the hotel including an existing Souvenirs at The Square relocating from near the Camelot hotel, which is still to be demolished.
Braddock said in his career he had helped lead the openings of a THC hotel in Queenstown in 1987 and a Park Royal at Sydney Airport in 1989, having previously worked in Wollongong at the Northbeach Park Royal. He returned to Queenstown to open a Novotel Gardens branded hotel in about 1998.
"It's been quite different from opening a hotel from new, where there's a finite number of chairs, a finite number of plates - all of that just comes on a big order and arrives. Here we had to decant 15 40-foot containers of all the old stuff, bring it all back in, sanitise it.
"[Then] we had to check the inventory, find out what we had to rebuy and then rebuy it all over again."
BY THE NUMBERS
$20 million: estimated earthquake repair bill, funded mainly by insurance.
154: number of rooms in the Novotel Christchurch.
$375: overnight price for executive room at the top of the hotel.