John Sanza has a new job at Erie’s newest old hotel.
Nearly 50 years after going to work as a porter at what used to be the Holiday Inn at West 18th and State streets, the 70-year-old Erie man finds himself working at the same location, now at the front desk of the new Red Toit Plus & Suites.
In his early days in the business, Sanza was a senior at Gannon University. Today he is retired after working for years at American Sterilizer Co. and later Steris Corp. For most of his career, however, he held a second job in the hospitality industry, spending 33 years at the Holiday Inn and working for the estate’s subsequent owners.
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Now he’s back at the old Holiday Inn location, working full-time in a space that feels both familiar and entirely new.
Not a simple makeover
Giving the property a new look was not easy. It hasn’t been quick and it hasn’t been cheap, said Sanjay Bharitya, who does business with two partners, Gary Patel and Dhaval Patel, as Mark Erie Hospitality.
The three of them bought the hotel, most recently operating as the Erie Downtown Hotel, for $1.1 million on March 3, 2020, about two weeks before COVID-19 concerns hit. shut down much of the economy.
Even without COVID-related slowdowns, Bharitya and his partners had a big challenge ahead of them. The 60-year-old building, closed by order of the city in February 2019, was in poor condition, and squatters had taken up residence.
The city’s code enforcement official said a leaky roof caused water damage and debris fell from the ceiling. In some cases, water was leaking directly into electrical panels.
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But Bharitya was optimistic, predicting he and his partners could reopen in about a year with a renovation cost of around $2 million.
It didn’t work that way.
Prior to completion, the partners had spent over two years and invested over $6.5 million.
The first order of business was to raze the hotel restaurant, which the new owners had not planned to operate.
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“It wasn’t cheap. Everything went up in price,” said Bharitya, who praised the hard work and cooperation of local contractors, who carried out around 70% of all renovations.
Out with the old
Except for the bones of what used to be a 133-room hotel, it’s brand new. The glass walls, common when the Holiday Inn was built, have been replaced with new doors and windows and stucco walls. Around 200 dumpsters were filled as mountains of old items – beds, drywall, furniture, glass, doors – were swept away.
All plumbing, heating and cooling units and every square inch of wiring had to be replaced, as did the leaky roof that caused so many problems, said Gary Patel.
Red Roof operations manager Neil Scott, who was in town to help with the training on Tuesday, said everything in the rooms was new, including the interior vinyl plank floors.
“Vinyl floors have been a huge hit for us,” Scott said. “They’re cleaner, they’re crispier, there’s a better smell in the room.”
In some cases, supply chain issues have caused delays.
New electric light poles, ordered months ago, were installed in the parking lot on May 17, just days after they arrived.
Special pillows specified by Red Roof were also slow to ship. Bharitya said the hotel ordered 90 dozen, but only 50 dozen arrived in the initial shipment.
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Will all the delays and cost overruns make it difficult for the hotel to be profitable?
“We don’t know yet,” Bharitya said with a laugh. He and his partners predict, however, that the hotel could prove attractive to budget-conscious tourists as well as business travelers and out-of-town workers stationed in Erie.
A limited number of rooms, starting at $89 a night, and two-room suites, starting at $139, have been made available for booking this week. The rest will be available in the coming weeks.
Scott said Tuesday he was happy with the transformation of the hotel.
“It’s the rebirth of this property,” Scott said. “I’m thrilled to see them bring him back to life.”
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Contact Jim Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.