Coming up on its 70th anniversary, the Williamsburg Lodge has been renovated and expanded to accommodate the thousands of guests it welcomes each year. This hotel and conference center is located in the heart of Williamsburg, VA, where much of the early history of the United States began.
Built in 1939 with funding from entrepreneur John D. Rockefeller Jr., the Williamsburg Lodge was conceived to provide a moderately priced alternative to the nearby-and more costly-Williamsburg Inn. “They wanted it to appeal to the guests and offer a moderate price, while also operating at a lower cost,” says Phillip E. Cunningham Sr., CHA, general manager of the Lodge since 2004.
While financial considerations drove the original construction, the historic character of the area was also central to the design of the Lodge. The brick exterior harmonized with nearby structures dating back to the American Revolution, and the interior included many elements that harken back to the Colonial era-among them cypress paneling, bluestone flooring, and lantern style lighting fixtures. Two buildings comprised the Lodge, referred to as the main building and the south building.
“As restoration projects here in Colonial Williamsburg increased,” says Cunningham, “the Lodge property expanded, which included the addition of the conference center in 1963. And as Colonial Williamsburg became more prominent, the hosting of dignitaries in the conference center played an integral part.”
After the conference center was built, the Lodge was able to accommodate larger and more prominent events. Through the years, the Lodge has hosted such high profile people as President Reagan during the Summit of Industrialized Nations in 1983 (now known as the G8 Summit) and then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Governors, members of NATO, and celebrities have also visited the Lodge.
In 2000, members of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF), a not-for-profit educational institution and owner of the Lodge since its construction, began to discuss a renovation and expansion for the facility. This was delayed by a number of events, including 9/11, but the idea returned to the forefront in 2004.
Cunningham joined Colonial Williamsburg as the Lodge project was in its early design stages. Having headed up several historic renovations in the past, he was recruited by CWF to oversee the Lodge project. In addition to being general manager of the Lodge now, he is responsible for day to day operations of nearby Williamsburg Inn, also owned by CWF.
One of the main factors driving the project was the desire to restore some of the original characteristics of the building that had been lost over the years. Equally important, Cunningham explains, was the age of the conference center. “Our customers were telling us we needed to renovate the facilities, and we also knew we needed to renovate in order to stay competitive.” About 70% of visitors to the Lodge come for conference activities.
The conference center had been built near the main entrance in 1963, and visitors were sometimes confused about which entrances were for the hotel and which ones led to the conference center. So one goal was to bring the main entrance back to prominence.
Explains Cunningham, “The renovation and expansion project involved demolishing the old conference center and Tazewell Club (our health center), in order to bring the facility back to its original footprint.” One building not original to the Lodge that remained in place was Tazewell Hall, a guest room complex erected in 1985.
Also driving the renovation project were conditions in the hotel lobby and other reception areas, where bluestone flooring and cypress paneling used in original construction had lost their character through dramatic alterations. “The bluestone in those spaces had been painted over black at some point and must have had at least 100 coats of wax,” says Cunningham. “It took a great deal of work to bring that stone back from under the paint.”
The project team decided that existing guest rooms would be renovated while also adding to room inventory. Rooms at the time were located in four areas-the main building, Tazewell Hall, and two guest houses.
Besides room renovations, two additional guest houses were built to bring the total number of rooms up to 323. The new facilities were doubly needed, since room inventory in the main building decreased; this is because some of those rooms were enlarged to become suites.
A new 45,000 square foot conference center was built to replace the old conference center. The new facility consists of an 11,200 square foot space (Virginia Room); a 6,700 square foot reception space (Colony Room); 28 smaller function rooms; and the Jefferson Board Room. The spaces were designed to offer flexibility in configuration.
This complex was sited on the opposite side of the Lodge from where the old conference center had been. Cunningham explains that the relocation provided several benefits.
“We were able to build the new conference center on land we already had, so the footprint of the overall Lodge did not expand,” he says. “Additionally, the wide hallway that leads into the Virginia Room is set up on a hill that overlooks the Colonial Parkway. This gives the Lodge visibility from that well traveled roadway.” This also created the opportunity to establish the Virginia Lawn, an outdoor, 7,000 square foot function area.
The focus on historic restoration did not overshadow the requirements for state-of-the-art technology in the new conference center and all guest rooms. “In order to remain competitive in the conference business, we made it a priority to install the capabilities existing and potential clients require at their events,” says Cunningham. These included multimedia capabilities for presentations, along with logistical and technical support. Also, wireless Internet access was made available throughout the Lodge.
Lastly, a full service, 20,000 square foot spa was constructed in a newly renovated adjacent property, also owned and operated by CWF, to replace the demolished Tazewell Hall.
Back of house improvements included adding an updated building management system, which monitors and controls lighting and HVAC operations throughout the Lodge. “We took the opportunity to upgrade some of these functions, which hadn’t been improved upon since the 1990s,” says Cunningham. “We also replaced lighting with more energy efficient systems in the common spaces and throughout the back of house.” Flexibility of space was also vital to Cunningham in planning service and staging areas.
“I do not like to use a lot of closets,” he says. “Closets create bottlenecks and other issues. We value engineered closets out of the plan in favor of open spaces. Carts, chairs, and the like are out in the open in those spaces, so the staff can get to those items quickly during an event. I also chose to install polished concrete flooring in those spaces, because they represent low maintenance demands for us.”
Best Of Both Worlds
With the goals of historic restoration, renovation, and expansion sharing equal priority, the project team comprised a diverse group. Says Cunningham, “This project involved new construction and renovation, along with the historic aspect, so there were a lot of people involved.”
In addition to architectural firms CMMI of Atlanta, GA (responsible for interiors) and Glavé & Holmes Associates of Richmond, VA, (tasked with the exterior), the architectural and design team for CWF, along with interior designers reporting directly to Cunningham, were at the planning table to discuss how to execute a successful restoration.
Having begun in March 2004, the renovation was completed in December 2006 when the main building reopened. Throughout the project, the Lodge remained open with reduced capacity, and Cunningham explains the project was done in phases. He also credits construction management firm, Clancy & Theys of Newport News, VA for keeping the site clean and safe throughout the project.
Reflecting on the project, Cunningham notes that leisure and business guests alike continue to remark positively on the changes. “It was sometimes a challenge to bring together the original parts of the Lodge with the more modern aspects, but I think it turned out very well. The expertise we had available to us from within the Foundation and from our other partners was crucial to making it work.”
This article was based on an interview with Cunningham along with literature from CWF.
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Name of Organization: Williamsburg Lodge.
Type of Facility: Existing; historic renovation and new construction.
Function of Facility: Hospitality.
Location: Williamsburg, VA.
Square Footage: 454,000.
Construction Timetable: March 2004 to December 2006.
Facility Owner: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
On-Site Facility Manager: Phillip E. Cunningham Sr.
Architect: CMMI; Glavé & Holmes Associates.
General Contractor/Construction Manager: Clancy & Theys.
Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Cosentini Associates.
Structural Engineer: Walter P. Moore.
Interior Designer: CMMI; Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Lighting Designer: Integrated Lighting Design.
Landscape Architect: EDAW, Inc.
Carpet: Couristan; Patcraft; TredMoor; Atlas.
Movable Walls: Hufcor, Inc.
Building Management System: Trane.
Security System: Indala (proximity readers); Seibold (controls).
Fire Alarms: EST.
Safety Equipment: EST (automatic external defibrillators, smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, annunciators, and strobes); Virginia Sprinkler Co.
HVAC Equipment: Trane.
Power Supply Equipment: General Electric.
Signage: Atlanta Creative Graphics.
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