Chicago’s hotel market has been hot, not unlike other markets that have experienced significant growth since the recession. But as the hotel market continues to increase supply – more than 2,000 rooms are projected for 2019 – how do hotel owners and operators make their property stand out and attract travelers?


Carrie Wagner, a project engineer with Summit Design + Build, is now working on her third hotel renovation and has helped update hotel designs and make better use of unused space. But, before hotel owners and operators embark on a major renovation, particularly one in an occupied hotel, there are a few things they should consider.

The Top 4 Things to Consider Before Starting a Hotel Renovation

By Carrie Wagner

Project Team

In hotel renovation projects, there are a number of owner groups involved. The hotel owner funds the project and while they make major decisions, there is usually an owner’s representative involved to make day-to-day decisions and deal with minor issues on the project. The hotel staff and management team, typically employed by the hotel operator, are also involved and are critical for coordination and logistics. And that’s just on the owner side. You can’t forget that you also have an architect, interior designer and contractor as well.

Constant communication is key to keeping all parties on the same page. With varying tiers of hotel ownership, groups are privy to varying degrees of information from the get go. But when the project is fully underway, you may need to engage some team members more than others. While change orders are discussed in depth with the owner’s representative and cost decisions are not shared with the hotel staff, that same onsite team will be integral to mitigating issues on the job.


During a hotel renovation, owner’s want to interrupt normal business operations as little as possible. So, the hotel remains open for guests and hotel staff, and the project team must consider logistics and sequencing.

When it comes to logistics, over communicate with the team and write everything down. The hotel logistics plan can be very detailed and could change from the time of an owner meeting to when it is later documented in an email. Many decisions are based on hotel occupancy – again, you want to disrupt the least amount of hotel guests. The project team must be willing to change plans as hotel occupancy at any given time may be higher than originally anticipated.

Similar to logistics, the sequencing of occupied spaces depends on the hotel owner’s priority. On our project at Hotel Indigo, now Claridge House Hotel, the sequencing was first prioritized to keep as much space open as possible. As the project progressed and unforeseen conditions resulted in delays, we ultimately had to close more space for renovation work to accelerate the schedule. And, above all else, safety of hotel guests and staff has to be a number one priority.

Lobby of the Claridge House Hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast

Unforeseen Conditions

Whether the hotel you are renovating was built in the 1980’s or the 1920’s, you’re bound to run into unforeseen conditions. There should always be conversations between the hotel owner, the owner’s rep and the contractor beforehand to determine how unforeseen conditions will be handled because unfortunately, they are inevitable. Documenting existing conditions in writing and photos at the beginning of the job is critical, and establishing clear requirements saves everyone time and money.

When these conversations happen early in anticipation of unforeseen conditions, an allowance can be prepared. Involving subcontractors in these discussions is important as they may have experience with similar situations. Otherwise, construction contingency is what is typically allocated for unforeseen conditions. Just know that they will happen.

Procurement & Lead Times

Stay on top of material delivery dates. This is what drives the schedule for hotel renovations. If there are owner provided materials, the contractor should make sure the material is ordered on time and check on tracking. At our most recent hotel renovation at the Westin River North, we requested lead times early on and let the owner know that with the current schedule, one of the flooring materials would need to be expedited or reselected to keep the schedule.

It’s important to remember when it comes to hotel renovations, no matter how large your team is, what logistical challenges you may face or unforeseen conditions may pop up, everyone is in it for the same reason – to complete the renovation as efficiently and quickly as possible so the hotel can get back to business as normal. There are a lot of moving pieces and there may be difficult conversations and decisions, but when there are, lean on your team and their expertise. The final result is certainly worth it.