The owners of the former Merrill Lynch conference center, Scott and Alyson Toombs, announced on August 28 that they are re-flagging the center under the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts name. Among the multimillion dollars worth of improvements will be room amenities designed by Michael Graves & Associates. On September 4 Ghee Alexander will take over as general manager of the 364-room facility, which is expected to need up to 250 employees.
Built in 1985 to serve the training needs of Merrill Lynch, the center on Scudders Mill Road began to welcome outside visitors as the Harrison Conference Center & Hotel. The father daughter team of Scott and Alyson Toombs, of Merritt Capital Investors in New Canaan, Connecticut, bought the center in 2004 (U.S. 1, August 11, 2004). They updated it to the tune of $6 million, named it the Lakeside Princeton Conference Center, and turned it over to Paramount hotel management. Because of its unusual location on a corporate campus, marketing was a problem, and it was “one of the best kept secrets” of Princeton. Now, as one of 81 Wyndham properties it will enjoy a higher profile for business and leisure travelers.
“We thought the property would do well with a flag,” Alyson Toombs says in a phone interview, “and that the Wyndham management would bring a higher level of service. The property has 364 rooms — that’s a lot — and Wyndham gives us additional channels that, as an independent, we don’t have access to.” The internationally known firm, which has 81 properties nationwide, will attract more social and transient business, she believes.
Scott Toombs, 73, is known for pioneering the concept of mixed-use, upscale, open-air centers. A graduate of Ursinus College with a Wharton MBA, he worked at the Rouse Company and Cadillac Fairview. Toombs made his mark in the Philadelphia market with what is now known as the Aramark Tower in 1981 and built the mixed-use Princeton Forrestal Village with luxury fashion stores in 1986. But the Princeton market did not respond, and the Village reverted to the Bank of New York in 1991, the year that Toombs founded Merrit Capital Investors LLC. Merritt has developed, owned, and managed more than $600 million worth of office retail, hotel, and mixed use projects, including a 500,000 square foot office building in Stamford and a 670-acre mixed use site in Ridgefield.
Alyson Toombs Elezi joined her father at Merritt after a career with Morgan Stanley. She graduated from Bucknell with a major in finance. Unlike her two younger sisters, she says, she has always been interested in business. After a stint with a boutique high-yield bond firm, she did bond financing at Morgan Stanley for colleges, universities, museums, and non traditional 501c3 organizations. “I had a good experience at Morgan Stanley,” she says, “but I had grown up learning about real estate and liked being involved in it.” She and her husband, who also works in finance, have one child.
The conference center has 62,000 square feet of function space, and a 400-seat auditorium. Amenities include a six acre lake, traversed by a bridge between the training center and the guest rooms. Being added: a barista bar — a coffee bar and breakfast area that can change into a cocktail bar with casual dining.
About those Graves-designed accessories — they will include coffeemakers, alarm clock radios with MP3 players, icebuckets, and energy-saving lamps. Rooms will also feature Graves’ new Wyndham Smart Chair, a functional lounge chair with built-in power, Internet outlets, and pivoting table arms. Not all Wyndham hotels have them now — they are being rolled out nationwide over the next two years.
Wyndham Princeton Forrestal Hotel & Conference Center, 900 Scudders Mill Road, Princeton Forrestal Center, Plainsboro 08536; 609-936-4200; fax, 609-936-6532. Britt Landkorn, sales. www.wyndham.com.
More Hotel News
Doubletree Hotel Princeton, 4355 Route 1 South at Ridge Road, Princeton 08540; 609-452-2400; fax, 609-452-2494. Bruce Hutcheon, general manager. www.princetonpremiere.com.
One of the first hotels built on Route 1 is changing its name for fifth time in nearly 25 years. On December 3 the current Premiere hotel will raise the Doubletree flag.
With 240 rooms, the Doubletree will be Princeton’s full-service hotel in the Hilton chain. Other Hilton properties in the Princeton area are the Hampton Inn at 4385 Route 1 South in South Brunswick and Homewood Suites at 3819 Route 1 South in Plainsboro.
Renovations, now under way, are expected to be finished in six weeks. They include a new glass panel roof enclosure over the swimming pool and new equipment in the fitness center, plus improvements to the lounge, conference facility, and restaurant.
The steakhouse restaurant had been known as Gallagher’s but is now labeled City Grill; under a new name, On the Bone, it will feature an expanded menu.
In 1983, when this hotel was built, it was a Ramada Inn. Along with the Hyatt Regency at the Carnegie Center, it was the first full-service hotel along Route 1 in Princeton. In successive years it was known as Holiday Inn, and a Radisson. Premiere Hotels bought the property in 2006 and sold it to Shamrock-Hostmark Princeton LLC, based in Illinois.
Hyatt Place Princeton, 3565 Route 1, Carnegie Center West, Princeton 08540; 609-720-0200; fax, 609-720-0201. John Holmstrom, general manager. Home page: www.hyattplace.com.
Hyatt Place is the newest brand for the Hyatt hotel family, says Donna Roberts, director of sales. “It blends the personal life with the business life of our travelers.” In 2005 Hyatt Global bought 107 former Amerisuites and owns 88 of them, including this one. Smaller than the neighboring Hyatt Regency, the Hyatt Place is a boutique hotel and has a lower price point.
When Hyatt bought the five-story property from AmeriSuites, it came with 122 studio suites, 1,100 square feet of meeting space, an indoor pool, and a business center.
Hyatt will operate the business center on a 24-hour basis — and it is adding a cafe, with Starbucks coffee and hot and cold food items available 24 hours a day, plus complimentary breakfasts. After a liquor license has been obtained, says Roberts, beer and wine will be added to the menu.
Technology additions include wireless Internet, 42-inch plasma TVs and “plug-and-play” panels for plugging in DVD recorders, MP3 players, and laptops. The studio suites, completely new and reportedly about twice the size of the average hotel room, has new pillow-top beds, a living area with a queen-size sleeper sofa, and in-room refrigerator.
Surrounded by five restaurants, it is walking distance to MarketFair and is a mile away from Princeton University. The rebranding is tentatively scheduled for late November.