The Hyatt Regency Seattle which officially opened Monday, will be the largest hotel in the Northwest — and getting it up and running has required a massive and well-coordinated logistical effort.
With less than an hour to go until the ribbon cutting, the mood at the new Hyatt Regency Seattle during this week’s grand opening was a mixture of first-night giddiness and Cape Canaveral countdown anxiety.
The 45-floor, 1,260-room property, located at 8th Avenue and Howell Street, is the largest hotel in the Pacific Northwest — also, at $470 million, one of the costliest — and the Hyatt management team left nothing to chance.
Since November, teams of launch specialists from Hyatt’s corporate offices have been on-site running the 400-plus person staff through a massive checklist for every system in the hotel before it formally opened Monday.
There have been “mock check-ins” in the lobby. Full-scale “trial feedings” in the site’s vast banquet halls. Endless testing and retesting of everything from the in-room coffee makers to the state-of-the-art IT systems in the hotel’s two ballrooms and 46 meeting rooms.
Yet veteran hoteliers know there is no substitute for a “live building,” or the crucial feedback that comes as the first guests roll in.
“Some things won’t go the way we planned, I’m sure,” said Brian Smith, the hotel’s director of rooms and a 20-year Hyatt veteran who looks as if he would be at home on an episode of Downton Abbey. “But our role is to keep that behind the scenes.”
Hotel openings are nothing new in Seattle. The last two years especially have seen a flood of new rooms as developers and hoteliers have scrambled to take advantage of the huge appetite for hospitality here.
But the sheer scale and ambition of the Hyatt Regency puts its opening process in another league entirely — and one that has been underway for years.
The property is so large, and so geared toward convention business (the city’s Convention Center expansion is going up across the street) that Hyatt’s sales team was doing group bookings even before building construction began in 2016. Yet as a precaution against construction delays (and there were numerous holdups in this project, which was actually conceived eight years ago) the sales team didn’t book any large groups until January 2019, said Danielle Boyles, director of sales & marketing.
Furnishing the massive property has also been an enormous undertaking. Hyatt teamed with the building’s developer, Seattle-based R.C. Hedreen, as well as architects and designers to bring in everything from a fleet of Keurig coffee makers to 1,890 mattress sets to thousands of pieces of flatware and silverware.
Six local photographers were commissioned to provide some of the 1,260 pieces of room art. In the lobby, contractors carefully installed a massive, 5.7-ton boulder-shaped sculpture, “Black Diorite Negative Wall Sculpture,” by Nevada-based artist Michael Heizer. (The display also features an automatic camera stand for obligatory selfies.)
But by far the largest challenge for opening a hotel of this size has been hiring.
In a city where the labor market is tight, living costs are high, and local regulations (on everything from wages to housekeepers’ workload) are demanding, Hyatt’s hiring team was under extra pressure to hit a staffing goal of 400 by opening day, with another 50 to 75 by early next year. Though the property is nonunion (despite long-running efforts by organized labor), “you have to be ultracompetitive from a wage standpoint,” said Tom Wolf, the hotel’s general manager and a 38-year Hyatt employee.
To get fully staffed, the hotel had to run three hiring fairs, although “traditionally, we would only do one large event to hire for a hotel of this size,” says Kathryn Barajas, regional director of human resources.
By late fall, the opening process shifted into its final countdown.
The sales team began taking reservations for December. Facilities staff and contractors moved up floor by floor, putting final touches on guest rooms and 103,000 square feet of “function space.” (By the December 10 “soft” opening, the hotel’s available inventory included 800 rooms and one top floor-suite; 500 were booked for the first night. )
A few weeks before opening day, special Hyatt teams arrived to conduct large-scale hospitality simulations. Hundreds of “guests” (mostly employees from Hyatt’s 13 other area properties) were brought for “trial banquets and receptions” to test out check-in and food service systems, said Smith, the director of rooms.
Department managers were drilled in various hospitality contingencies. The roving launch teams have “done a lot of these and they know kind of what you can be caught off guard with,” Smith said. “So they’re here to help us be proactive and ready for those types of challenges.”
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Not all of the challenges can be trained for, however. The Hyatt Regency opens just as Seattle’s hotel market has cooled somewhat. No one is predicting a recession, but the perils of the hotel sector — and the vulnerability of such a massive property — were front and center during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“This is the part of the program where I was going to request a little prayer from everybody,” joked David Thyer, Hedreen’s president. He noted that this was the third Hyatt “flagged” property built by Hedreen — and that the previous two hotels opened at economically challenging moments.
The Grand Hyatt, at Pine and Seventh, was launched a few months before 9/11 — “which was not a great time for the hotel business,” Thyer said. The nearby Hyatt at Olive 8, he continued, opened in 2009, “in the midst of one of the worst recessions the country had seen.”
The Hyatt Regency “is three times as big as either of those,” Thyer continued, “so the prayer is, let’s hope we don’t have three times the consequences coming down the tracks as what we did with those two hotels, because it probably means something like incoming ballistic missiles.”
For now, the challenges confronting the Hyatt Regency’s new staff have been much more manageable. Among them, glitches in the streaming television system, elevator control panels that guests found confusing, and, late Monday afternoon, something requiring a maintenance man and a massive roll of Gorilla Tape. “You never know where there’s a stray cable,” he said, stepping onto an elevator.
In the midst of it all, Wolf seemed calm. The general manager expects the shakedown process to take up to a year to run its course.
In the meantime, he said, the last few weeks have been like an extended opening night for a Broadway play — nerve-wracking and stressful, but exciting. After training so intensely, Wolf said, “everybody wants to get after it.”
The story has been updated to clarify the address of the hotel.