Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Parc 55: Renovated and Reflagged

In 1984, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Leonid Brezhnev were in power, there was no Internet and no e-mail, and no one had taken a photograph by using a mobile phone. 1984 was also the year the Parc 55 Hotel opened in center-city San Francisco. The hotel is still there, but it is much changed from 26 years ago - the biggest changes coming just recently following a $30 million renovation and a brand-new afilliation with the Wyndham Hotel Group.

I took a look at the 1,000-room, 32-story highrise - San Francisco's fourth-largest hotel - following a swell party for a hundred-plus of the hotel's closest friends. Managing director Rob Gauthier showed me around and related what $30 million bought. Actually, $30 mil is not big money as these things go, especially considering the 4-star Parc 55, a favorite among business travelers, redid every one of its guest rooms and corridors in addition to revamping public spaces.

"We added 9,500 square feet of meeting space,'' Gauthier told me as we walked out of a second floor meeting room into what had been a three-story-high atrium. Extending the second floor into former open space enables the hotel to lure corporate business and could help the Parc 55 go for what Gauthier considers an ideal mix of guests: "40 percent meetings, 30 percent transient, 30 percent corporate.'' The just-inked deal with Wyndham (see my previous post) was also done with business travelers in mind.

The big re-do - officially completed last year with an epic, 55-hour party and still being tweaked - also involved moving the main lobby up one level from the ground floor and giving the new lobby an airy and inviting contemporary design. The Parc 55 installed a cool cocktail lounge and a restaurant called cityhouse - written all in lower case - just off the lobby. Cityhouse, Gauthier said, is proving popular with guests, as well as locals who want a drink and a bite to eat after work. "It's also definitely increased our hotel capture,'' he said - referring not to the taking of hostages but to encouraging hotel guests to eat and drink, and spend, in the hotel instead of going out for a night on the town and spending their money elsewhere.

Alas, there's only so much anyone can do with the outside of the building, a nondescript mid-'80s highrise. But inside, the hotel sparkles.

I checked out the sweeping views of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay from the club floors and club lounge on the upper floors, and alighted on the anti-allergen 28th floor. Anti-allergen because the Parc 55 has installed in every guest room on that floor a small metal filtration device made by New York-based Pure Solutions; the manufacturers claim it filters out 98 percent of dust and other items that make sensitive people sneeze, wheeze, weep and sniffle. The new product is called Wyndham CleanAir.

The hotel's redesign was led by Gensler, the accomplished San Francisco-based architecture and design firm, and from what I saw, Gensler and its associates did a good job. I liked the high-thread count of the bed linens, the sharp look and subdued but far from dull color scheme, and the guest-room desks, which come complete with "jack pack'' power strip along the side. To underline its green credentials, the Parc 55 has installed low-flush toilets that save three gallons of water with each use. "That also saves us $250,000 a year,'' he said.

Along with its new look, the hotel has got a new, and rather long, new name: Parc 55 Wyndham San Francisco-Union Square. A hotel by any name is likely to find business tough in the Great Recession, however, and Gauthier allowed that this is so for his spruced-up property.

"We're seeing that the economy is coming back quite a bit on the East Coast,'' he said. But in California, where the subprime mess hit hard and official unemployment hovers close to 13 percent, "the group (travel) market is significantly still down and convention business is still off. It's very, very difficult for large hotels in San Francisco.''

Gauthier figures business will come back in a big way when the recession eases for real and in a sustained fashion. Until then, it's renovate, repair and prepare, with hopes of good times ahead for this nicely redone hotel.

Parc 55 Wyndham San Francisco-Union Square Hotel is located at 55 Cyril Magnin Street, near Fifth and Market streets, San Francisco, CA 94102 USA. Tel. 001 415.392.8000 or toll-free in the U.S. at 800.595.0507. Web:

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