Sections Supplements

Room for Improvement

Renovations — and Maybe a Water Park — Are on Tap for Holyoke’s Holidome
Phil Santopietro

Phil Santopietro stands in the Holidome, a somewhat underutilized facility in his hotel that could become a water park.

Phil Santopietro has overseen a number of hotel renovation projects during a 25-year career in the hospitality industry.

“I’ve handled several big ones and lots of little ones,” he told BusinessWest. “They’re exciting, but also stressful; when you finish, you want to strut like a peacock — you’re really proud. And each project is a little different.”

His latest assignment, at the Holiday Inn Holidome & Conference Center in Holyoke, could wind up being a lot different.

That’s because the ownership group that recently bought the 210-room hotel has commissioned a consulting group to gauge the feasibility of erecting a water park in that aforementioned Holidome, a high-ceilinged area near the pool that is used for several types of functions but is somewhat underutilized.

“They’re taking a good look at it,” Santopietro, the hotel’s general manager, said of the Cleveland-based consultants, who specialize in water parks. “There are a lot of things to consider, but we think it might be doable; there’s only one water park in the area (Six Flags), and it’s outdoors. This one would be open year-round.”

Whether the water park is a go or not, there will soon be a completely different look to the hotel located off exit 15 of I-91. Roughly $3 million in improvements and renovations are planned in a major overhaul that will touch every area of the facility, from the lobby to the lounge; from the hallways (one just off the lobby will be outfitted with a waterfall) to the guest rooms. Meanwhile, another restaurant, perhaps an Olive Garden, is being eyed for an existing pad site on the hotel’s grounds.

The extensive makeover was one of the conditions of the sale of the hotel last fall to Shield Hotels Management, said Santopietro, adding that the work is dictated by corporate standards and is long overdue. ‘Tired’ was the word he used to describe many facilities within the hotel, which was expanded in the late ’80s, but not really touched since. Thus, it has been left looking and feeling dated by a series of new hotels built in recent years.

And at a time when both business and leisure travelers have become more demanding when it comes to accommodations, the hotel needed a facelift to remain competitive.

“Today’s business and leisure travelers like the ‘new touch,’” he said, noting that a hotel like the Holidome loses some business every time a new hotel opens, and several have been added in this market over the past 15 years. “People have lots of choices, and too many of the hotels in this market are brand new; we needed a facelift.”

Diving Right In

Santopietro was serving as general manager of another Shield Hotels Management facility in Wethersfield, Conn., the Best Western Camelot Inn, when he was summoned to Holyoke last October by the group’s owner, Ken Patel, to oversee the transition of the hotel from one owner to the next.

He came knowing that such temporary assignments often become permanent in nature, and that this one would likely take that course.

“There were a number of discussions about it, and there were some conditions I was looking for,” said Santopietro, adding that he was excited by the prospect of still another major renovation project. “Ken looked at me at one point and said, ‘you’re hooked — let’s get this done.’ He was right.”

Since the day he first saw it, Santopietro has been impressed with the Holidome’s size — 210 rooms make it one of the larger hotels in Western Mass. — and location; it is roughly halfway between the region’s biggest tourism centers, Springfield and Northampton, and borders the interstate. Meanwhile, some of its facilities, including the pool (said to be the largest in the region, hotel-wise), have made the Holidome popular with families and sports teams on several levels.

But most other facilities are quite dated, said Santopietro, noting that he has spent considerable time since arriving on blueprinting and scheduling what will be a serious makeover designed to enable the hotel to compete with recently built facilities, including the Homewood Suites by Hilton, located on the other side of I-91.

He’s also taken what he says will be the first of many steps to make the hotel more active within the community. Over the holidays, the Holidome hosted four needy Holyoke families for a night, putting presents under Christmas trees provided to each one. The hotel is also becoming a better, more visible neighbor to the elementary school across Whiting Farms Road, offering pool parties, starting in March, to the classes that post the best monthly attendance marks.

But it is the physical overhaul of the Holidome that is getting most of Santopietro’s attention. As he gave BusinessWest a tour of the hotel, he stopped in nearly every area and outlined changes and improvements. He started in the lobby, where he said the wooden front desk/reception area would be redone in granite, giving it a more modern look, while the sitting area will be redecorated. “We want to make an impression,” he said.

The lounge, called Samuels, will also be revamped, with a new entrance created just off the front desk. There will also be a series of interior renovations, including creation of a meeting room at the back of the lounge.

Moving toward an area with larger meeting facilities, Santopietro pointed to a spot in the wide hallway currently occupied by a water fountain. It is there where the waterfall, a signature of the Shield Hotels Management group, will be placed. All the hallways, guest rooms, the 400-seat ballroom, and lounge area on the concierge level will be done over in an effort to blend greater convenience with amenities and a more modern look, he said, adding that three of the guest rooms will be outfitted with Jacuzzis.

As he walked through the Holidome area, Santopietro said there are many factors to consider with the water park plans, from logistical issues to regional demographics to return on investment. The consulting group will weigh all of that and have a recommendation probably by spring. If it offers a thumbs-up, the matter would then go before city boards for needed approvals.

It could be a long road to final OKs, and a large investment for the Shield Hotels group, he said, but a water park would be a unique addition, one that would give the Holidome a new revenue stream, greater visibility, and a great hook for luring families visiting the Pioneer Valley.

“Water parks are becoming big around the country,” he said. “That’s why we’re looking hard at this. It could be a great opportunity.”

Overall, Santopietro expects the renovation project (with the water park or without it) to enable the hotel to raise its rates slightly while also improving on an occupancy rate that generally hovers around 60%, and is much less in the winter, especially this one.

Making Waves

While excited about the upcoming renovations, Santopietro said this may well be his last big hotel facelift project.

“They take a lot out of you,” he said, adding quickly that he and his staff have certainly been energized by the pending overhaul and its prospects for helping the Holidome grow market share. “I like to say to hotel owners that they may own the facilities, but I live them, and that’s why this is so exciting.”

Whether the water park becomes part of this makeover remains to be seen. In either case, the rejuvenated hotel will certainly be making a splash.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]