Making Marriott Work

May 30, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Once the JW Marriott Grand Rapids hotel is up and running, it will be Robert Mitchell’s job to maintain it around the clock, 365 days a year.

As director of engineering for the new hotel, Mitchell will be responsible for all its physical aspects, including mechanical and electrical distribution systems, lighting, furniture, water features, landscaping, life safety systems, emergency power systems, elevator operations and maintenance contracts. He’ll manage a full-time staff of eight engineers and one supervisor.

The new hotel will have 24 floors and 340 guest rooms, including 20 suites, and an adjacent 450-space parking structure on the south side. It will feature a full-service business center, a JW Signature Restaurant and Destination Lounge, 20,000 square feet of meeting/event space, a boutique gift shop, indoor heated pool, a sauna and whirlpool, and a 24-hour fitness center. The hotel also will feature a 1,000-seat grand ballroom.

Construction of the hotel, which began in the fall of 2005, is a joint venture between Rockford Construction Co. of Grand Rapids and Pepper Construction Group of Chicago. Construction is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2007.

“I’m pretty impressed with the tradesmanship of these guys that are building the hotel,” Mitchell remarked. “If I was to compare Grand Rapids with Seattle, I feel the tradesmen in Rockford and Pepper take a lot more care with their work and have a lot more pride in what they’re doing.”

Mitchell has 17 years of practical, broad-based management experience in the hotel industry, overseeing budgets, wage costs, productivity, capital expenditures, and contract bids and negotiations. He got his start with Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, hiring on as a utility engineer for the 530-room Hyatt Regency in Long Beach, Calif., in 1986 while attending night school at the same time. Mitchell just kind of gravitated toward the hotel business, he said. His grandfather was an engineer for large steamships, and he steered Mitchell’s two brothers toward the hotel industry. Today, both his brothers are directors of engineering for different hotels. Since the hotel business was “working out well” for his brothers, Mitchell decided to give it a try, too.

“I was living in Oregon at the time and my mother and sister were in Southern California. I went down there for a vacation as it was so sunny and beautiful. Two weeks later I moved there, and that’s when I found out about the entry level job with the Hyatt Regency,” Mitchell recalled.

Eventually, he worked his way up to director of engineering for the 260-room Hyatt on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Mitchell joined Marriott Hotels & Resorts in 1995, starting as assistant director of engineering for the 720-room Maui Marriott Resort in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

“Marriott was just a bigger company — 2,000 hotels versus 200 — and there was a lot more room for advancement,” he said. “I was younger, and I had the freedom to move around a lot. I averaged probably two to three years per hotel property. Now that has all changed; I kind of want to grow some roots somewhere. Looking back at some of the places I’ve lived, I never thought I’d end up living in Grand Rapids.”

Mitchell was familiar with Grand Rapids because he has a brother and two nieces who live in town. His most recent position with Marriott was as director of engineering for the 358-room Seattle Marriott Waterfront in Seattle. The new JW Marriott Grand Rapids and the Seattle Marriott Waterfront are among six Mitchell has helped put on the map as a member of corporate engineering “opening” teams.

Obviously, Mitchell has overseen maintenance of hotels much larger than the JW Marriott Grand Rapids. But there is a great sense of pride in being selected as director of engineering for a JW Marriott hotel, he said, because there are only 34 in the world.

“It will be the first JW Marriott in the Midwest, and only the 35th in the country. It’s going to be a beautiful project,” he remarked. “JW Marriott is the ‘elite of the elite’ of Marriot hotels; it’s the finest we have to offer. I’m very, very excited, and I feel very blessed to be here. It’s a great opportunity.”

Mitchell said the challenges are the same throughout the hotel industry: There’s just a lot of stuff that has to be maintained.

“With our job, we’re never doing the same thing every day. We could have an emergency in the kitchen one day and the next day we’re out repairing a leak in the landscaping water system, or repairing the front drive, or whatever.”

His engineering team will include a full-time painter, a “guest request” engineer to respond to guest calls regarding any type of electrical or mechanical issue, technicians to take care of the hotel’s kitchen and laundry equipment, and an engineer to keep up all the public spaces. Mitchell said the hotel’s grounds maintenance will probably be contracted out. Otis Elevator has been contracted for elevator maintenance and repair, and other big line items — such as window washing and boiler maintenance — will also be outsourced to local companies. Mitchell will oversee all the contracts.

JW Marriott Grand Rapids will be owned and operated by Alticor Inc. and its Amway Hotel Corp. subsidiary, which also operates the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott. The hotel was designed by Caprile Goettsch Architects of Chicago, and BETA Design Group of Grand Rapids.    

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