Upgrading hotel preps for massive tourism bounce back

General Manager Geoff Eisenbraun at the Sunbridge Hotel’s upgraded patio, which is ready to open as soon as Premier Doug Ford gives the word. Cathy Dobson

The first 30 rooms in a multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the Sunbridge Hotel on Venetian Boulevard should be ready by July, says general manager Geoff Eisenbraun.

Construction announced prior to the pandemic forged ahead at the former Holiday Inn property during a year of unprecedented challenges for the tourism industry.

Work was interrupted by material and labour shortages, but the first phase of refurbished rooms is expected to be available for guests as the economy reopens, said Eisenbraun.

“We’re starting to do the finishes for 30 rooms on the fourth and fifth floor of the tower and they should be complete by July 1 if the new furniture and fixtures can be delivered.”

Toronto-based Sunray Group purchased the 50-year-old Holiday Inn in 2017 and announced plans to spend $10 million to $15 million to redevelop “every square inch” of the 216-room hotel, Eisenbraun said.

The pandemic has drastically impacted travelling and room occupancy at all hotels.  But Sunbridge remained a busy spot between major renovations and fulfilling a Lambton County contract to provide accommodation and meals daily to about 70 homeless people.

“It’s wonderful to have ownership that is investing at a very difficult time and making a long-term commitment,” Eisenbraun said.

“Sunray’s modus operandi is to buy older hotels that they believe have great value and excellent locations, and completely overhaul them,” he said. Once renovated, the hotel will operate as a Four Points by Sheraton, part of the Starwood brand purchased by Marriott several years ago.

Marriott’s standards demand upgrades to the hotel’s infrastructure, including new wiring for more private and secure phone and TV service. That, coupled with a new sprinkler system, meant stripping the walls back to their studs and moving some of them.

“When guests walk through the front doors they will have a completely different experience than before,” Eisenbraun said.

The lobby is being doubled in size and the front desk moved.

While redevelopment occurs in phases, the hotel continues to have some rooms open for regular guests and Bridges Restaurant offers takeout. Eisenbraun expects to reopen the patio near the pool as soon as provincial regulations allow. A new menu, new furniture and live entertainment are in the works for the patio.

“I do believe with the vaccination levels we’re seeing, tourism will bounce back because people are anxious to travel safely again,” he said.  “I think we’ll see a massive boom when this is all over.”

Sunray Group, which is family-owned, also purchased the Comfort Inn on Mara Street and completed a multi-million-dollar renovation there in 2019.

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