The familiar structure that rises among wetlands near I-95 has long stood as a symbol of a well-publicized land use battle between New Castle County government and developers. Now, more than a decade since it was built, the hotel is finally getting to do something it’s never done before: open for business.
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Beautiful pockets of creek and marsh decorate both sides of Airport Road, which carries traffic to the hotel from Del. 141.
At the bend where the road meets I-95, the hotel rises like an oasis from the wetlands. The building is separated from the interstate’s northbound lanes by a narrow parking lot and a grassy shoulder. A drainage ditch separates the hotel’s main entrance from Airport Road.
From its parking lot, the V-shaped hotel does not appear run down or weathered. And behind the pale facade and tinted windows—windows that reflect the outside world like giant aviator glasses—appears to be a brand new hotel.
Yes, the skeleton has been around for more than a decade, but the hotel’s original Radisson furnishings—beds, furniture, carpets and even each room’s heater/AC units—have been gutted and replaced with Sheraton’s modern decor.
“There was lots of walnut and brass,” says Costa. “It had a boys’ club kind of feel to it.”
Dozens of contractors from various trades worked feverishly since May to re-outfit the hotel.
Hersha donated the guts of the former Radisson to Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County. Volunteers filled two tractor trailers with cabinets, granite countertops, towel bars, closet doors and hair
dryers. Habitat has been selling the stuff from its ReStore shop in Wilmington since May. The towel racks sold for $3 apiece while the granite countertops go for about $125, say ReStore manager Joe Robertson.
A number of structural features of the Radisson didn’t survive the transition. The hotel’s grand spiral staircase near the main entrance was removed piecemeal, as workers used torches to sever its steely spine. In its final days, the stairs’ main support, jutting from the debris-littered lobby floor, resembled a scene from Ground Zero.
In its place stands a glass-sided staircase—built specifically with bridal party photo ops in mind—that will transport guests to and from the second floor. The lobby also features elevators with glass walls that allow passengers a bird’s-eye view of the bar and open-air restaurant below.
An October tour of the hotel—still under intense renovation—revealed stark contrasts between old and new. Long hallways were freshly painted and papered in warm browns, but still felt cold, thanks in part to dust-covered concrete floors with each room number spray-painted in red. An intricate structure of scaffolding filled all six floors of the cavernous atrium, while most guest rooms on the top floors were furnished and ready for business.
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