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Little Nell ready for face-lift

The Aspen hotel that continually earns the industry’s highest rankings and boasts one of the best occupancy rates in the world says its customer want changes.

The Little Nell Hotel will respond by closing its doors for the first time in a decade this spring and kick off a multimillion-dollar refurbishing, according to general manager Eric Calderon.

The customers, he said, believe the rooms are getting a bit stale. “Close to eighty percent of those people are people who are coming back year after year,” he said.

So to ensure they keep coming back, the hotel will redecorate its 92 rooms and public hallways as well as remodel the restaurant and bar.

The hotel will close for one month starting the day after ski season ends and crews will begin what’s expected to be a two-year process of refurbishing, Calderon said. The work will only be done during off-seasons.

The decor will be completely redone in all of the rooms – new televisions, curtains, drapes and some new furnishings. That’s a massive undertaking because The Little Nell’s rooms average 600 square feet, or about a third more than the rooms in most corporate hotels.

Ironically, the hotel is making drastic changes at a time when it has earned perhaps its highest accolade.

The hotel was awarded Mobil Travel Guide’s Five Star Award for the fifth consecutive year this winter. What made it remarkable was Mobil stripped the coveted distinction from one-third of the 44 hotels and restaurants that earned its highest award last year.

Calderon said a top-quality property cannot rest on its laurels and expect to continue earning top industry recognition.

“You have to keep investing or you end up where the shag carpet condos are,” he said. “You’ve got to spend a lot to make a lot.”

Earlier this year, Calderon noted that the hotel plows about 5 percent of its annual gross income back into improvements. This major refurbishment will be extra.

The 10-year-old hotel is owned by the Crown family, owners of the Aspen Skiing Co.

Calderon said the bar is the only part of the hotel’s design that he has never liked. It is too secluded and doesn’t have access to either the restaurant or kitchen.

A construction crew will try to fix that during the monthlong closure this spring. It will become much more open and accessible.

But some of Calderon’s goals cannot be achieved by a construction crew alone. He wants the bar to become a hipper, more vibrant place.

Observers wouldn’t be surprised if a Geritol cocktail was the most popular drink there now.

The restaurant’s turn for remodeling will come next fall. It will be closed from October to Thanksgiving “to get a whole new look,” said Calderon. He wants to create an atmosphere that’s “more colorful and much more current.”

Even though it’s considered one of the better high-end restaurants in town, its size will be reduced. The current seating for 110 is too much. It can seem cavernous even when there’s a good crowd, he said.

Booths will be added and existing space will be used for the bar and cocktail area. The smaller space will have a fuller feel, he predicted.

The entrance to the restaurant will also be changed. Instead of walking through a hall, the access will be via the living room.

Calderon acknowledged that the changes with the bar and restaurant are “absolutely” a reaction to some competitors. The St. Regis Hotel tried to liven up its bar and dining scene by bringing in an Olive’s restaurant this season.

Calderon said he is most envious of Cache Cache, the restaurant he believes provides the best atmosphere in town. That’s the feel he would like to bring to the Little Nell.

Aspen’s five-star hotel isn’t the only internationally known tourist accommodation in Colorado that’s making some big changes. The Broadmoor, a Colorado Springs resort with 700 guest accommodations, plans $67 million in renovations over the next two years.

The Broadmoor received Mobil’s Five Star designation for the 40th straight year in 2000.

Calderon said he was unsure at this point how much the renovations will cost at The Little Nell, but he estimated it will top $2 million.


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