Steamboat Springs John Santaniello's task as the new general manager of the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel is not unlike that of a new coach that takes over a struggling team under orders to get the team to the playoffs.
Two years after it opened, half of the quartershare condominiums at the resort remain unsold, and the resort faces a heavy debt load, lightened recently by a restructuring agreement with Textron Financial Corp.
But two months into his role at the Grand, Santaniello is optimistic the resort can turn things around.
Santaniello said the hotel's 326 guest rooms, three restaurants and list of amenities from pools to conference rooms comprise solid infrastructure that makes the Steamboat Grand an attractive property.
And Santaniello said the Grand should benefit from the restructuring of its construction loan with Textron.
American Skiing Co. announced Oct. 2 that Grand Summit Resort Properties, an ASC subsidiary that oversees the company's eight Grand Summit hotels including the Steamboat Grand, reached an agreement with Textron for loan defaults.
"It is an extreme message of goodwill to all the stakeholders in the Steamboat Grand as well as the community, which I consider a stakeholder as well," Santaniello said. "Clearly it is a positive energy that the financing provided. It proves we are here to stay."
Santaniello came to the Grand in August from Keystone Resort where he was the general manager of lodging operations overseeing 1,400 condominiums.
But his training also included years of management positions with Ritz-Carlton and general manager for Laguna Brisas Spa Hotel in Laguna Beach, Calf. and hotel manager for the Mondrian in West Hollywood, Calf.
The background is a suitable mix for a general manager who must operate the hotel's restaurants, amenities and services and balance them with the demands of a homeowner's association.
"The two are very, very similar," he said. "If this hotel reaches service levels, we will improve total occupancy of visitors, and the client who wants to stay here is willing to pay for the product and services. And that will generate more revenue for all involved including the homeowners."
Increasing the level of service at the Grand is the biggest part of Santaniello's game plan. It is combined with ASC's strategy to boost the real estate division.
The real estate division will increase the number of licensed agents from one to as many as eight, bring in real estate ambassadors to the hotel and move the real estate office further away from the main lobby.
The success of the Grand hinges on the sale of quartershares, which is spurred by occupancy since hotel guests are potential quartershare owners. And occupancy, Santaniello said, is driven and sustained by service.
The Grand is taking lessons learned from the Grand Summit Resort Hotel in Park City, Utah, which has about 75 percent of its quartershares sold.
Real estate ambassadors will work with the concierge and provide information on the Grand's time-shares to interested guests. And the real estate office is moving away from the front lobby and is getting what Santaniello calls a more welcoming look.
Santaniello said increasing service means knowing visitors' names and showing hospitality from the time someone steps of the car until they check out.
The goal, Santaniello said, is to receive a four diamond rating in the AAA guidebook by next year.
The hotel has not been rated yet and the highest rating AAA gives is five diamonds.
Coming from Ritz-Carlton, Santaniello also sees the Grand as being a meeting place for locals to celebrate birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.
"This should be a place that the community is proud of and wants to enjoy and feels comfortable enjoying," he said.
"We feel very honored for them to celebrate some of the most cherished moments in here as a family."
He also said the hotel is committed to filling the storefront space along Mount Werner Circle and improving pedestrian connections.
Speakers at a mountain resort planning conference held in late September at the Grand criticized the poor pedestrian access and lack of storefronts.
Santaniello said those problems can be addressed.
He said more pressing are the past challenges a lagging national economy, lackluster snow years and a lack of hotel service.
The Grand's slow start is also part of the growth cycle, Santaniello said, of a hotel with more than 300 rooms, full services and conference space.
He said hotels of such size generally begin to stabilize in years three to five.
"We have crawled, we have walked," he said, "and now it is time to run with this beautiful facility."