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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A discarded brass placard labeled “Vienna 1” rested on the floor outside the entrance to a second-floor meeting room. The room is now called the Potomac, as all meeting rooms are named after regional bodies of water.
Heading down the hallways and letting the imagination run wild, one might have expected blood to gush from the elevators or a cute little kid to come tearing around the corner on a Big Wheel, a la “The Shining.”
But contrary to what some may think, the hotel did not seem creepy. During the tour, managers addressed the existence of ghosts at the hotel. Susan Shaid-Kedson, director of sales and marketing, was quick to squash the notion. “No one ever stayed here, so there wasn’t a chance to have ghosts.”
What the building does have is what Costa calls “dramatic features”—like crown molding and chair rail molding—touches constructed by the original builders.
Ironically, the extra square footage that ignited the controversy adds to the interior’s dramatic appearance. Says Costa, “This property has features that you wouldn’t build today. In a hotel today, when you’re looking at every dollar, every inch is considered prime real estate, not wasted space.”
The first floor houses the lobby, a restaurant, ballroom, pool area, exercise room, meeting spaces and administrative offices. The Atrium Lounge takes center stage with the Wilmington Grille located to the left as guests enter the hotel. Shaid-Kedson says the menu will feature “traditional American favorites” for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The ballroom—with its rich inlaid woods and wide open views onto the marsh and the Wetlands Terrace—is located in the left wing of the V-shaped hotel. The indoor heated pool and Whirlpool spa are housed in the right wing. Conference rooms are on the second floor and the presidential suite is located on the sixth floor.
The hotel brass is obviously proud of their work and excited to see the long embattled hotel finally doing what it was built to do. “We’ll let the product speak for itself,” says Costa.
A Hospitable Market?
As for the potential of the Sheraton Wilmington South, Costa says a market analysis showed “there is enough demand for business to support this number of rooms.” He mentions the existence of Fortune 500 companies located in the area, as well as the hotel’s proximity to corporate markets in Wilmington, Christiana and New Castle.
“We want to make it a community center for business and traveling clients,” Costa says. “Basically, everything ranging from Wilmington to Newark in regard to our business traveler and meetings-wise. Our hope is we can pull anything from Philly down to Baltimore, because of our convenience to I-95 and our central location to that area.
“We do feel that part of our business base will be that traveler going from the south to the north or the north to the south.”
Sullivan says the Sheraton, despite being situated just off I-95, will have to develop its own market.
“They’re located at an area of high traffic, but it’s not like the old days,” he says. “People don’t ride down the highway looking for a hotel. They book online, use Expedia.com, to make reservations. (The Sheraton has) got to go out and sell and get corporate functions.”
Costa says the hotel, indeed, will work to bring in social events like weddings, fundraisers and corporate conferences. The Sheraton has eight conference rooms, including the ballroom, and it will employ a certified wedding and event planner on-site.
The hotel has already proven a boon to the local economy. Combined with the work it provided contractors during renovations, the hotel will employ 90 people and have an annual payroll of $2.5 million, says Costa.
As a hotel manager and a member of the state’s hotel and lodging association, Sullivan looks at the Sheraton Wilmington South as potentially attracting business to the area that currently isn’t here. But he admits the Sheraton also provides competition—especially for hotels in the Christiana and New Castle areas.
“Of course, any time you add to the market, it dilutes it a little bit,” he says. “The industry is still recovering from the recession. We bottomed out in 2008 or 2009. We’ve been rebounding since then. I get reports about the county and state—things have turned around pretty good. It’s not devastating, as far as supply.
“Hersha has a great reputation of running hotels in Philadelphia,” Sullivan says. “It’s exciting for Delaware to have a new hotel.”
Or a new “old” hotel.