The Portland Regency Hotel will unveil a $2.8 million renovation this month, complete with a new roof, renovated rooms, suites and the addition of balconies to the building's fourth floor. The addition of the balconies to the historic building will allow guests to better enjoy the Portland skyline and views of Casco Bay, while boosting the hotel's occupancy and average daily rate and placing the hotel "at the top" of the local luxury hotel market, according to Regency Director of Sales David Davis.
"We've added some suites on the fourth floor that are unlike any other suites on the market, and the rooms on the third and fourth floors will definitely increase their rates from where they were previously," says Davis. The renovation of the Milk Street hotel included the addition of one-room studio suites and two, two-room Governor's Suites, the latter of which will likely be priced upwards of $500 a night, according to Davis.
The addition of balconies to the hotel's fourth floor further distinguishes the Regency in the local hotel market, according to Davis. "People always enjoy having outdoor space and we're one of the only properties in the Old Port offering that," he says.
"The new decks and suites are night and day compared to what they had before," says Josh Cushman, owner of Portland Builders. "Previously they were only lit by a skylight on a sloping roof -- now they all have windows or French doors. It's a big upgrade."
While Davis says advanced bookings at the Regency have not yet risen, he expects the renovation efforts to bear fruit before long. "It's still early to tell, but I think we'll see an increase sooner rather than later," he says.
Originally built in 1895 as an armory for the Maine National Guard, the building has filled many roles throughout its 100-plus years, from recreation center to public bath house. After a brief stint as a paper company warehouse, the armory became the 97-room Portland Regency Hotel in 1987 with former Gov. Joseph Brennan cutting the ribbon.
Next Monday, Gov. Paul LePage will be on hand to take up ribbon-cutting duties to mark the renovation. Brennan might also be there, according to Davis.
Barbara Whitten, president and CEO of the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the renovations will help the hotel to capitalize on its location and history. "If you're coming to a seaside community, you want to be close to the water and the charm of the Old Port," says Whitten.
The hotel was recognized as a Historic Hotel of America by the National Trust of Historic Preservation in 1990. The building's eclectic history presented some unique architectural challenges, according Cushman.
Constructed as a "building in a building," the hotel was converted to its current use from the inside out to prevent marring the building's marquee facade, a technique that presented a lot of unknowns when it came time for renovation.
"We had some documents to work off of, which weren't great, but we were able to do a lot of field measuring, which helped speed up the process," says Cushman, whose company oversaw the renovations.
When the construction team reached the interior of the original building, they found a welcomed surprise, according to Cushman. "The miraculous thing is that the original superstructure was in very good shape; the standards it was built to when first constructed were fantastic and that helped us a lot," he says.
But renovating an operating business, especially one in a densely packed area like the Old Port, presents its own set of obstacles. "Tearing the roof off a historic structure and replacing it with no area to work was a real challenge," says Cushman.
In an effort to minimize disturbances to the hotel's guests, the construction crew installed their own staircase on the building's exterior
"It's always a challenge when you stay open during a project, you have to keep guests comfortable and keep the renovation somewhat concealed so it doesn't disturb their stay," says Davis. During the renovation efforts, some rooms located in close proximity to construction were discounted, according to Davis.
Beginning renovation work shortly after the winter holiday season, the renovation team relied on a specially designed dome to keep the roof work safe from the elements. Each morning, the dome was lifted to allow workers to access the roof and was replaced at night to protect the crew's efforts. "We call it Portland's biggest box kite," says Cushman, whose company was recognized with the Maine Historic Preservation Award two years ago for their work on a former mill building in North Berwick.
While Portland, and specifically the peninsula, has seen a rise in the number of hotels over the last decade, Davis says the market is by no means nearing the saturation point given the continual accolades the city has received from the national press. "I think that we're going to see an increase in visitors. Any more properties added to the market are welcomed as far as increasing traffic, and as long as that traffic keeps flowing, I don't think we're oversaturated by any means," he says.
While Whitten says it is important for the state to maintain a mix of accommodations from the rustic to the luxurious, any value-adding renovations like those by the Regency can only mean good news for the local hotel market. "I think there is a market for luxury travel in the Portland area. As Maine's largest city, we need to represent ourselves not just for leisure travelers, but for businesspeople and conferences as well and maintain [that] variety which the traveling public has come to expect," she says.