Steamboat Grand opening delayed

Hotel managers now hope to have 250 rooms ready for visitors by Labor Day

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— Scheduled to open today, the Steamboat Grand Hotel won't be ready for at least another two months.

The large hotel and conference center being built by the American Skiing Co. on the knoll near the base of the Steamboat Ski Area now is scheduled to be open on Labor Day maybe.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed. There's no guarantee," said Terry Murphy, the general manager of the hotel. "We've received five different dates since April 15 from the general contractor. It's a moving target. It sure makes things challenging in terms of planning."

Even in a best-case scenario, not everything will be open by Labor Day.

"We're shooting for five floors of guest rooms to be completed," Murphy said. That's about 250 guest rooms out of a 328-room goal. In addition, the smaller south-end meeting rooms will not be finished.

Along with the guest rooms, the grand ballroom, which is already near completion, will be the primary focus of construction crews.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials don't seem surprised by the construction delays.

"They're typical delays," spokesman Mike Lane said. "There are very few highly skilled laborers in the area, and they're in high demand right now with all of the construction happening in town."

Murphy agrees that the delays are primarily due to a lack of laborers who have the level of woodworking skills needed inside the Steamboat Grand, particularly in the restaurant and bar areas.

In mid-May, Murphy was confident that the hotel would be ready for guests at the end of June.

"We expect to have our (certificate of occupancy) and be open June 30," he said then. "But we aren't taking reservations for earlier than July 7."

The approximately 300 room nights already reserved for the months of July and August have been transferred to other lodging businesses in town.

"The lodging community, especially the Sheraton, has been very helpful," Lane said.

The Steamboat Grand will not get any piece of lodgers' fees. In fact, the hotel lost money in transferring some of its patrons.

"Some of the available rooms in town were charging higher rates than we were," Murphy said. "So we had to make up the difference for those who had made reservations with us."

Hotel officials say they put the brakes on reservations in the spring precisely because of the uncertainty regarding an opening date.

"We didn't set ourselves up to fail," Murphy said. "We knew there could be delays."

Because of what Murphy calls a conservative perspective on an opening date, the hotel has not lost money yet.

"It's more expensive for the hotel to be open than to be closed," Murphy said, referring to the large number of staff it will take to maintain all of the hotel's services. "It's somewhat of a relief that we'll be opening in September, rather than during ski season or the height of summer tourism, because we'll be able to start out with just a core group of staff."

But moving the hotel's opening date from mid-summer has its downside.

"It would've been nice to open this summer for exposure to Denver folks, so that when they made plans to come back and ski in the winter, they'd think of the Grand," he said.

So far there has been little marketing of the Steamboat Grand on the Front Range. Instead, it has been focused attracting convention business.

Although the Grand isn't welcoming guests yet, it has begun bringing folks to the valley.

"Our 15 managers are all from outside of Steamboat," Murphy said. "That wasn't intentional, it's just the way the hiring process happened." Murphy has brought managers from Florida, Arizona, California and other areas in Colorado including Vail.

All of the managers have found homes in Steamboat.

"It may be, in part, because the managers are all at the executive level. Once we start hiring department heads, maybe these people won't all be able to afford to live in Steamboat," Murphy said.

In spite of opening delays, no employees have been let go from their new positions.

"We could've waited to hire some of these folks, but if we had opened in time, we would've been in trouble, especially because of the labor shortage in town," Murphy said. The "extra" employees have been working on the mountain in the meantime.

"Everyone on the management team is still here and working away," Lane said.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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