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Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh turnaround complete, owner Patel says

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Dr. Kiran Patel, owner of the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, stands near the pool on the fourth floor of his hotel, Downtown, Thursday, April 10, 2014.

Kiran Patel says the days of turmoil at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh are finally over.

“The city and people at large want to see this property not as an eyesore,” Patel, the hotel's owner since 2011, said this week.

Nearly $15 million in renovations were completed in January, adding three floors to the front of the building, more meeting space and a pool with a breathtaking view of the Fort Pitt Bridge and the Point.

But getting there was not easy. Patel, a Tampa physician and businessman, had to navigate the hotel out of bankruptcy, manage union unrest over a new contact, and complete the renovation project that was stalled for at least two years under the previous owners.

The unfinished addition to Pittsburgh's largest hotel left a shell of steel beams and unused building materials in a prime Downtown area. In 2009, with the city set to host the Group of 20 economic summit, officials pushed the hotel to cover up steel facade with a giant welcome banner.

With the renovations complete, business is returning to normal at the 712-room hotel, and employment has reached 500, Patel said, up from about 300 two years ago when the hotel was going through its struggles.

“I want the citizens of Pittsburgh to think this is an asset that has been restored to them. We've gone through a painful period and delivered something of great value, not only to myself but to the city.”

And peace with the hotel's six labor unions was underscored by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO's decision to hold its biannual convention there this week with 800 attendees.

“Everything I hear is positive, and for many years that's not what we heard,” said Tim Zugger, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association and general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton, Downtown. “We know, with our participation in group room blocks that their business levels are on the rise.”

The hotel that opened as the Pittsburgh Hilton 55 years ago at the edge of Gateway Center lost much of its luster in the late 2000s as the previous owner struggled to make improvements.

Hilton pulled its flag in September 2010, and the mortgage holder foreclosed. Then-owner Shubh Hotels Pittsburgh LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors as a result. The hotel emerged from bankruptcy with Patel as the owner.

Patel relies on two Wyndham Hotel Group executives to run the hotel: Scott A. Marn, a regional vice president, and Tom Hemer, regional director of sales and marketing. In addition to the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, Patel owns the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa in Tucson with 241 rooms.

Marn said the Wyndham's market share has increased 20 percent in the past year. Revenue per room has increased 39 percent year-to-year compared to 19 percent for the similar hotels Downtown, he said. And 30 to 35 weddings and social events will be held there this year, up from 10 to 15 in 2012.

This week's AFL-CIO convention is evidence that the hotel is attracting business it had alienated in the past, Patel said. “The unions were staying away because of past troubles. Now the relationship is we're team players and not fighting each other.”

“They got the renovation done with union workers, they settled a contract with Unite Here Local 57, the largest union,” said Rich Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. “Other unions have been coming back, and more will look at it now that we were there.”

Patel sees the hotel as being on “step one” of its resurrection as a convention center hotel, even though it is not directly tied to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. “If occupancy goes up year round ... the potential for more jobs is definitely there for a property like this that is humming and active.”

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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