By JOHN HOWELL Twenty-five million dollars of renovations to the "West Bay Convention Center," as it was branded Thursday, were completed on time and on budget in February 2020. The grand reopening of the fully renovated Crowne Plaza was planned for
Twenty-five million dollars of renovations to the “West Bay Convention Center,” as it was branded Thursday, were completed on time and on budget in February 2020. The grand reopening of the fully renovated Crowne Plaza was planned for March 12, 2020 – and then, as the world knows, the COVID shutdown happened. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was postponed until last Thursday.
It’s not that everything is back to normal, although those gathering outside the 266-room hotel with its grand ballroom – a favorite place for conventions, promotional ceremonies, community breakfasts, inaugural ceremonies and even national karate and martial arts competitions – were maskless.
Lynne Oscarson, general manager of the Crowne, reports bookings are returning, and there’s a pent-up demand for weddings that were put off because of the pandemic.
The Crowne didn’t close during the shutdown even though its companion hotel, the Holiday Inn Express on Jefferson Boulevard, did. The Holiday Inn Express reopened last week. At one point, staffing at the Crowne dropped from 230 employees to a core of 18 who took on the chores of keeping the place running with the exception of food services. The National Guard booked rooms and with the return of air traffic, the Crowne picked up Southwest Airlines flight crews. Today, more than 100 employees are back to work.
The dark days of the pandemic were quickly fading Thursday. It was a bright spring day. It was warm. People were ready to celebrate an event that should have happened more than a year ago.
Kelly Coates, president and CEO of the Carpionato Group that built and owns the hotel, handed out kudos to the contractors, city and state elected officials and the city building officials and departments who worked on the project.
“These people are part of the family,” Coates said, naming many of those gathered. “We’ve been waiting for this day to come back.”
Coates talked of how all the hotel furniture was replaced, walls and floors pulled out, new wiring installed and heating and air conditioning systems replaced. He said furniture was donated to local nonprofits.
He pointed out that all the work meets standards set by IHG (International Hotel Group), which owns the Crowne Hotel franchise. Also, he reminded that the job was completed with private financing and without tax breaks of state or federal grants.
The hotel remained open during the renovations that were undertaken in 2019 and 2020. In 2018, the last year for full operation before the renovation began, the Crowne Plaza booked 34,400 group room nights in addition to the 38,200 leisure room nights sold. A theme repeated throughout the hotel is “crossroads,” in keeping with the hotel’s name when it opened in 1987 as “the Inn at the Crossings,” whether it is the lobby décor or artwork in guest rooms.
Mayor Frank Picozzi said Warwick has a great relationship with the Carpionato Group. He noted that the company stepped forward when the city and state were looking for COVID testing sites, making available at no cost vacant space in the Stop & Shop plaza on Greenwich Avenue. The Cowne also came to the aid of more than 50 people who were displaced by Les Chateaux apartment fire early this year, offering discount room rates.
“They do everything they can to be good neighbors,” Picozzi said.
Accolades for the Caprionato Group were also forthcoming from K. Joseph Shekarchi, speaker of the state House of Representatives. Shekarchi and his law firm have represented the company before local zoning and planning boards as well as councils on office and commercial developments. He remarked on the company’s concern for community, saying that it postponed a tenant for the former Citizens Bank building on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston so that the state had a place for a field hospital should local hospitals be overwhelmed and later as a vaccination site operated by the National Guard.
He said the company “goes above and beyond … there’s a sense of family they do so many things for so many people.”
Kristen Adamo, president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, labeled the Crowne “the West Bay Convention Center,” saying the facility enables the bureau to book events too small to need the Rhode Island Convention Center but too large to fit in most hotels.
“We are grateful to have such a strong partnership with the hotel and are excited about the many new opportunities these extensive renovations will afford us. Together, we will bring even more lucrative business to the Ocean State,” she said.
“Hospitality in Rhode Island is really a local business,” she said.
Following a joint ribbon cutting with Oscarson, Shekarchi and Picozzi doing the snipping, those in attendance were invited to see the improvements inside … wearing masks, of course.
Coates spoke of the late Alfred Carpionato, who he wished could have been present for the occasion.
“It was his love that was put into this building,” he said.