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Wyndham Grand's addition on target for March debut

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The view from the Wyndham Grand's Presidential Suite Tuesday December 11, 2012. The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The view from the Wyndham Grand's Presidential Suite Tuesday December 11, 2012. The addition to the former Pittsburgh Hilton now, Wyndham Grand should be finished in March according to Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Pittsburgh Hotel. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Plans for the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh keep changing, even as the Downtown hotel's glass-enclosed addition with a curved roof finally gets close to completion.

New space on the ground level will become more meeting space instead of a restaurant. An expanded lobby lounge will serve a light menu. The gift shop will move from the back of the first floor to the front, and a new shipping and business services shop will take its old space.

Recent construction delays and design tweaks have further delayed construction at Pittsburgh's largest hotel that was set for completion last summer, then in the fall.

And now? March is the month that final touches are projected to be done, said Tom Hemer, director of sales and marketing, on Tuesday as he walked toward the top of the hotel's new grand staircase, still hidden behind temporary walls on the lobby and ballroom floors.

“We've had (representatives of) numerous social events, galas, weddings that when we show them this space the first question is, ‘When can I book it?' ” Hemer said. Events are being scheduled, he said, although he's reluctant to sell the new space for the earliest dates in March.

The hotel that opened as the Pittsburgh Hilton 53 years ago at the edge of Gateway Center lost much of its luster in the late 2000s as a new owner struggled to pay for the addition, other needed renovations and work stalled.

Hilton, citing failing grades on inspections, pulled its flag from the hotel in September 2010, and the mortgage holder began foreclosure proceedings. Then-owner Shubh Hotels Pittsburgh LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors as a result.

The 712-room hotel emerged from bankruptcy reorganization with a new owner, Tampa physician and businessman Dr. Kiran Patel, who invested in the hotel under Shubh's ownership in 2009. Patel is paying for the renovations, and in some cases has upgraded original plans, Hemer said.

“We're close,” Hemer said, estimating the work is 85 percent complete, “We know the renovation has taken a long time, but it's almost done, we're open and we're moving forward.”

Patel, who has said he's invested more than $15 million in the hotel, plans to visit Thursday to check the progress.

”I have to make this thing work. That is my goal. I am in it, so I might as well give it all I have,” Patel said in a telephone interview, adding he owns about 10 hotels.

In October, Patel decided to switch the new first-floor space to a 5,000-square-foot meeting room. “With the room sizes we have, we can handle two conventions at a time if we want to, for many larger conventions that might skip Pittsburgh” because of a lack of meeting space, he said.

Event space is key to the hotel's success and in total, the addition will expand meeting space by more than 25 percent.

Based on a comparison from when Wyndham put its flag on the hotel in November 2010, to projections for 2013, convention and meeting business will be up 50 percent, Hemer said.

Total occupancy will be up 10 percent, and revenue per available room will be up 29 percent, he said. Total revenue at the Wyndham Grand, which is the largest Wyndham hotel worldwide, will be up by 39 percent, he said.

In October, the hotel reached a new contract with Unite Here union, Hemer said. The hotel has 300 to 350 employees, depending on schedules and time of year.

While the Wyndham fills up on weekends when the Steelers play at home, “The group and convention business is what really drives the hotel, and it will only get better once all this is done,” he said.

Once the project is done, the Wyndham Grand, as part of a push to upgrade the hotel to four-star rating based on industry and its own standards, will turn its attention to other areas including the Three Rivers restaurant and lounge. The hotel is now considered three stars.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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