Mr. Caliendo

Architecture & Design

A Hotel Renovation Inspired by a City and Its People

By Gino Caliendo, General Manager, Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront

Embarking on a major hotel renovation can be an exciting endeavor. When we began formulating our renewed vision for the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront in 2014, we were mindful of a dual responsibility: projecting the image of the regency brand while also infusing into the plan the personality and flavor of a unique surrounding region and its people. Now that the project is complete, others in the industry may benefit from learning about how we achieved those objectives.

In all, the year-long renovation included a floor-to-ceiling overhaul of all 951 guest rooms, corridors, the roof-top fitness center, select meeting spaces and more. We sought to achieve an enhanced guest experience amid an inspiring setting overlooking the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville.

Reflecting the River City

To understand the visual themes for our renovation, it is important to understand Jacksonville itself. In land area, it is the largest city in the contiguous United States, and in population, it is the largest city in Florida. It stretches from the Atlantic beaches to its inland downtown area and beyond. While Florida typically conjures up images of tropical landscapes and palm trees, Jacksonville is different; it offers a mixture of palms, pines and towering live oaks within a city that boasts the nation's largest urban park system.

With a recorded history stretching back to the 16th century, the city is rich in its heritage of both Florida lifestyle and true Southern charm. Jacksonville has become a city with many unique neighborhoods, an exciting metropolitan center and a vibrant arts scene.

But the crowning jewel of Jacksonville is the historic St. Johns River, which runs through the very center of downtown. No fewer than seven bridges span its waters. The most iconic of all, the Main Street Bridge, lies virtually at the doorstep of the Hyatt Regency, which is situated on the river's north bank. Known by many as the "blue bridge," its vibrant color was adopted as a key element in the scheme for our redesign efforts.

We wanted our new look to reflect the enormous pride our employees take in our city and to project the essence of Jacksonville to our many guests.

Creating the Vision

Our staff worked closely on the renovation with the architecture firm of Jonathan Nehmer + Associates and design company HVS Design. Their designers helped us focus on an integrated approach that involved a great deal of collaboration. Among the topics discussed in advance were the competitive set, the current and target markets, our long-term goals, and our corporate brand. Only when these aspects were understood and agreed upon did the discussions turn to the design itself.

In undertaking our renovation, we wanted to bring in new customers while also securing the loyalty of our more regular guests. So we wanted to give them a true taste of Jacksonville rather than places like Key West, Miami or other locations farther south. We wanted to show them what North Florida looks and feels like.

From a practical standpoint, we knew we wanted to take maximum advantage of amenities like our fitness center, our pool area and the access we provide our guests to technology. We also took into consideration the changing ways travelers use their guest rooms while they are with us.

True Blue

If there's one thing that virtually every element of our redesign includes, it is the color blue-the color of our ocean, of our river and of our famous neighbor, the Main Street Bridge. The color can be found throughout the décor of the hotel. Our design team believed that it offered a neutral, age-indifferent and soothing flavor to the hotel while-most important-bringing the predominant color of our surroundings into the building itself.

On the exterior of the hotel, the color mirrors the surroundings. Throughout the interior, it offers a soothing design motif that relaxes and pleases guests.

Connecting with Today's Traveler

Perhaps Christine Shanahan, managing director of design at HVS Design, put it best when she said, "The renovated guest rooms are serene and calm with an attention to detail and an honest approach to the design. This experience transports guests from the environment of the city streets or convention-center floor and allows them to have needed downtime. The new design is current and modern but timeless, with no tie to gender or age. The hotel's guest audience is broad, and our goal is to embrace all travelers and appeal to each of their needs through design."

The rooms not only offer guests comfort and relaxation, they also convey a unique sense of place and a feeling of freshness and openness. Soft hues and natural tones in shades of blue, green, gray and taupe create a tranquil ambiance conducive to rest and relaxation. Each guest room also features localized artwork showcasing the character of Jacksonville.

Another notable feature of the guest rooms is the absence of dressers. Today's travelers tend not to unpack, leaving their clothes in their suitcases and using only the closet to hang items. As Ms. Shanahan put it, "Removing the dresser provided an open floor plan that is a breath of fresh air."

She added, "As designers, we are always looking to bring in local elements and/or flavor, whether that is through the colors, patterns or artwork. For this project, a series of local photographs was selected to enhance that sense of place and connect the guest to the local environment and its architecture. The overall design of the room is subtle, relying mostly on textures and soft color shifts, however the artwork brings in the graphic nature. Its geometry and patterning are derived from the inspiring architecture and geography right outside the window. It is the jewelry in the room."

Many rooms were also designed with unique bars and kitchenettes to allow entertainment, in-room dining, impromptu meetings and various other social or business uses. Suites feature unique living-area layouts that are flexible enough for both business and personal use. Sectional seating and movable tables were also incorporated to create an environment conducive to work, relaxation, and fun.

Of course, technology is also important to today's traveler, so we were sure to give our guests the freedom to use their devices in all locations of the hotel. This is in keeping with the preference among today's business travelers to work in less traditional ways while on the go.

In terms of meeting space, we sought to accommodate the needs of today's customers, who present an enormous variety of meeting topics to their participants. So they need space for multiple breakout sessions and ancillary activities. To satisfy this need, we converted eight guest rooms into meeting spaces, named-appropriately-after our local bridges.

Blending Fitness and Fun

Both wellness and relaxation are vitally important to our guests, and we were sure to provide for both in our renovation.

Our swimming-pool area was enhanced with more of a true Florida feel, including the placement of white wooden patio chairs on the deck. The pool deck is also flexible enough to serve as both a guest amenity and a rentable space for business functions or social gatherings.

One of the more spectacular aspects of our renovation is our rooftop wellness area, highlighted by new state-of-the art fitness equipment strategically positioned to take full advantage of stunning 270-degree views of the river and the downtown area. Guests appreciate these vistas while they are working out. Fine touches including flavor-infused water, headphones and towels. And of course, the overall colors are drawn directly from the riverfront below.

We have also provided for the comfort of a special group of frequent guests-airline crews on layover from nearby Jacksonville International Airport. We have created a special reserved common area for these travelers that includes a pool table, multiple TVs and computer stations. Many lounge chairs and couches create a comfortable, at-home feel in our crew lounge.

The Importance of the 'Back of the House'

We didn't forget the back of the house. It's Hyatt's philosophy to treat our employees with the same care that we provide for our guests. As ambassadors of our brand, they are of paramount importance in everything we do. And that's why our renovation also included the back of the house.

We completely refurbished our employee dining room, including a spectacular mural of the Main Street Bridge that covers an entire wall. Jacksonville is experiencing something of a mural madness, if you will, with remarkable, bold murals springing up all over the city. We commissioned a well-known local artist to create something that adds grace and beauty to the daily lives of our employees. It is a visual reminder that we live in a beautiful and distinctive city.

We even opened the naming of the dining room to our employees. The result: the 904 Bistro, reflecting our area code. The room is a sign of how much our employees mean to us. It reinforces the Hyatt principle summarized in our expression, "We care for people so they can be their best."

Positively Received

Our entire staff is extremely gratified that our renovations have received rave reviews from our guests. Our goal of renewing the loyalty of regular guests while attracting new ones seems to have been met. While it took a lot of thought, planning and hard work, it has definitely paid off in the enthusiastic responses we have received.

New customers have responded very positively and have, in fact, booked additional business. Existing customers have also proven to be very complimentary about our changes.

In the future, we hope to continue working to enhance an environment in which our employees can interact with our guests. Our staff members live in a city they are very proud of, and they constantly impart that civic spirit to those who visit. Making connections between our people and our guests will continue to guide our efforts going forward.

Perhaps the major lesson to be learned from our experience is that careful planning in formulating and meeting your renovation goals is well worth the time and effort it takes.

Gino Caliendo has served as the general manager of Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, the largest convention hotel between Atlanta and Orlando, since May of 2014. He has more than 33 years of experience in the hotel industry, all with Hyatt hotels and resorts across the U.S., and he most recently served for six years as the general manager at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio, Texas. Prior to Hill Country, Mr. Caliendo served as general manager for the Hyatt Regency Miami, Hyatt Regency Coral Gables and Hyatt Regency Deerfield. He also held various other food-and-beverage positions, including opening the resort on Grand Cayman, Grand Hyatt Tampa, Los Angeles and New Orleans. Mr. Caliendo can be contacted at 904-588-1234 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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Feature Focus
Architecture & Design: Authentic, Interactive and Immersive
If there is one dominant trend in the field of hotel architecture and design, it’s that travelers are demanding authentic, immersive and interactive experiences. This is especially true for Millennials but Baby Boomers are seeking out meaningful experiences as well. As a result, the development of immersive travel experiences - winery resorts, culinary resorts, resorts geared toward specific sports enthusiasts - will continue to expand. Another kind of immersive experience is an urban resort – one that provides all the elements you'd expect in a luxury resort, but urbanized. The urban resort hotel is designed as a staging area where the city itself provides all the amenities, and the hotel functions as a kind of sophisticated concierge service. Another trend is a re-thinking of the hotel lobby, which has evolved into an active social hub with flexible spaces for work and play, featuring cafe?s, bars, libraries, computer stations, game rooms, and more. The goal is to make this area as interactive as possible and to bring people together, making the space less of a traditional hotel lobby and more of a contemporary gathering place. This emphasis on the lobby has also had an associated effect on the size of hotel rooms – they are getting smaller. Since most activities are designed to take place in the lobby, there is less time spent in rooms which justifies their smaller design. Finally, the wellness and ecology movements are also having a major impact on design. The industry is actively adopting standards so that new structures are not only environmentally sustainable, but also promote optimum health and well- being for the travelers who will inhabit them. These are a few of the current trends in the fields of hotel architecture and design that will be examined in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.