NORTH NAPLES — In its more than 27-year history, the iconic Ritz-Carlton, Naples, has rarely closed its doors.
It usually takes a major hurricane.
In an unusual move, the beach-front resort will close for 66 days this summer for what’s described as a “remastering” that will include a complete redo of all of its guest rooms, replacing and upgrading everything from the furniture and decor to the TVs and the wiring for Internet access.
“It’s a complete strip and redo, from top to bottom,” said Bruce Seigel, marketing and sales director for The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples. “We’re really striving to remaster this masterpiece.”
Even the air conditioning hidden behind the walls in every room will be torn out, all in an effort to improve on the guest experience. The renovated rooms will look like luxury beach homes.
The last time the resort closed to guests was in 2005 because of Hurricane Wilma, when there was an evacuation of the beach. Even then, it was shuttered for only a few days, Seigel recalls.
The 450-room resort undergoes a renovation about every eight years. This next one will be the biggest ever, closing the doors to guests on July 25 and reopening on Oct. 1.
“The decision to cease operations for the first time in the resort’s 27-year history is a true testament to our ongoing commitment to product and service excellence,” said Ed Staros, vice president and managing director of the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resorts of Naples and one of the original founders of the Ritz-Carlton brand, in a statement. “Our goal was to avoid any guest inconvenience during this timeframe.”
It’s a multimillion-dollar project, one that’s meant in part to ensure the resort keeps its coveted five-star rating from Forbes Travel Guide.
The resort dropped down a notch to four stars in 2012, but regained its five-star status for 2013, which it has received 23 times since opening in December 1985.
The intensive effort to regain a star included posting charts around the resort and setting up a “traffic light” at the employee entrance to let them know where they stood based on the feedback of guests. The goal was to keep the light glowing green.
“Yes, it is truly unheard of that a property regains the star back within a year,” Seigel said.
The five-star rating was officially announced last week.
“It was a heck of a cheer because our pride was injured, for the fact that we were given a different rating. Everyone here strives to be the best at what we do,” Seigel said.
Part of being the best is to keep the resort fresh and the next renovation will bring it up to the next generation, he said.
“You’re only as good as yesterday’s experience. You have to be better tomorrow,” Seigel said.
Usually, hotels and resorts do renovations around guests in the slower summer months. But the next one will be so disruptive, it wouldn’t be right to keep the resort open because it would lead to unhappy guests, Seigel said.
It’s not just the rooms that will get a makeover. Improvements are planned for three restaurants. Hallways and corridors will get an overhaul and more than 90 windows will be replaced with Category 5 hurricane glass, many of them in the front of the lobby.
The Terrace, a family-style continental restaurant, will get a new glass atrium and will be renamed Terrazza to fit its new Italian theme.
The Sushi Bar’s renovation will include an extended balcony offering sunset views. It will be rebranded as simply The Bar and the menu will be revamped to include sushi, small bites and creative cocktails.
The Grill steak house will get a contemporary facelift without touching the popular menu or the dining experience and the Artisans “princess ballroom,” which hosts at least 100 wedding receptions a year, will be brightened to look like “an elegant jewel box.”
Among the companies hired for the remastering are Wimberly Interiors and design agency Blue Plate, both based in New York.
The closing will ensure the renovation runs more smoothly and goes quickly, Seigel said.
Employees have known about the closing for more than a year, but were asked to keep it under wraps. Many will be hired to work for the renovation crews, while others will go to work at the golf resort at Tiburon, 10 minutes away on Vanderbilt Beach Road, which will gain some of the business that would have gone to its sister resort.
Other employees will take long vacations, using up time they’ve been allowed to carry over and borrow against.
“Every employee has a different plan,” Seigel said.
The resort’s roughly 900 employees, who come from 46 countries, will continue to get their company health benefits.
Demand for rooms at the resort has never been better, supporting the owner’s decision to make such a huge investment, Seigel said.
“Our rates during the Easter holiday break start at $949,” he said. “Demand has been incredible.”
The owner of the two Ritz-Carltons in Collier County is Host Hotels and Resorts Inc., the nation’s largest lodging real estate investment trust, or REIT. It’s a publicly traded business.
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This will be one of largest renovations undertaken in the Ritz-Carlton portfolio.
The beach-front Ritz is one of the biggest collectors of Collier County’s so-called bed tax, a 4 percent charge on all hotel rooms and other vacation rentals that pays for tourism marketing and beach projects, and supports local museums.
Other hotels and resorts will gain some business that would have gone to the Ritz, however, so all of the business — and tourist taxes — won’t be lost. For example, The Florida Bar will meet at the Waldorf Astoria Naples, but will return to the Ritz in 2014.
“I’m hoping we don’t have an appreciable decline in the tourist tax. It certainly remains to be seen. But it does come at a good time of the year for us,” said Jack Wert, Collier County’s tourism director.
It’s a smart move to close the property when such big changes are planned, he said.
He’s glad to see the owners making such a big investment, which he said points to the strength of the coastal Collier destination.
“It certainly is something that we see a lot of, properties around town who are reinvesting in their facilities as a whole. It’s definitely a good positive sign that they are encouraged by the improvement in the economy and that they are willing to make that investment and I think it’s good for the destination.”
The Ritz golf resort will be next, with a big renovation planned for 2014. It may not have to close.
“That’s the second part of the story,” Seigel said.