John Sanza has a new job at Erie's newest old hotel.
Nearly 50 years after he went to work as a porter at what was the Holiday Inn at West 18th and State streets, the 70-year-old Erie man finds himself working in the same location, now at the front desk of the newly opened Red Roof Plus & Suites.
Back when he started in the business, Sanza was a senior at Gannon University. Today, he's retired after working for years at American Sterilizer Co. and later Steris Corp. For most of his career, though, he's worked a second job in the hotel industry, spending 33 years at the Holiday Inn and working for subsequent owners of the property.
Now, he's back at the former Holiday Inn location, working full-time in a space that seems both familiar and entirely brand new.
Not a simple makeover
Giving the property a new look hasn't been easy, fast or cheap, said Sanjay Bharitya, who does business along with two partners, Gary Patel and Dhaval Patel, as Mark Erie Hospitality.
The three of them bought the hotel, operated most recently as the Erie Downtown Hotel, for $1.1 million on March 3, 2020, about two weeks before COVID-19 concerns shut down much of the economy.
Even without COVID-related slowdowns, Bharitya and his partners had a big challenge in front of them. The 60-year-old building, closed by order of the city in February 2019, was in rough shape, and squatters had taken up residence.
The city's manager of code enforcement said a leaking roof caused water damage and that debris had fallen from the ceiling. In some cases, the water leaked directly into electrical panels.
But Bharitya was optimistic, predicting he and his partners could reopen in a year or so with a renovation cost of about $2 million.
It didn't work out that way.
Before they had finished, the partners had spent more than two years and invested more than $6.5 million.
The first order of business was razing the hotel's restaurant, which the new owners did not plan to operate.
"It was not cheap. The price of everything has gone up," said Bharitya, who praised the work and cooperation of local contractors, who did an estimated 70% of all the renovations.
Out with the old
Save for the bones of what was a 133-room hotel, it's all-new. Walls of glass, common at the time the Holiday Inn was built, have been replaced with new doors and windows and stuccoed walls. Around 200 dumpsters were filled as mountains of old stuff — beds, drywall, furnishing, glass, doors — were carted away.
All the plumbing, heating and cooling units and every inch of the wiring had to be replaced, as was the leaky roof that set so many problems in motion, Gary Patel said.
Neil Scott, operations director Red Roof, who was in town to help with training Tuesday, said everything about the rooms is new, including interior vinyl plank floors.
"The vinyl floors have been a huge hit for us," Scott said. "They are cleaner, they are crisper, there is a better smell in the room."
In some cases, supply chain issues produced delays.
New electric light poles, ordered months ago, were being installed in the parking lot on May 17, just days after they arrived.
Special pillows specified by Red Roof were also slow to be shipped. Bharitya said the hotel ordered 90 dozen, but only 50 dozen arrived in the initial shipment.
Top-to-bottom rebuild: Former Holiday Inn, Downtown Erie Hotel, gets another new name
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 are predicting, however, that the hotel could prove attractive to budget-minded 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, were made available for booking this week. The rest will be available in the coming weeks.
Scott said Tuesday that he's pleased with the transformation of the hotel.
"This is the rebirth of this property," Scott said. "I am excited to see them bring it back to life."
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Contact Jim Martin at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Renovated Red Roof property opens in former Erie Holiday Inn space