North elevation of new downtown Marriott

Early in November, the Maryland firm Urgo Hotels named Cathy Hart as the general manager of the Marriott being built on the Commons. 

Hart is currently finishing out her tenure as manager of the Residence Inn by Marriott in West Orange, New Jersey, another location owned by Urgo. She will be visiting Ithaca next week and plans on moving here full-time in January. 

Anyone can see that, with that big orange crane towering over the intersection of South Aurora and East State streets, the building for the Marriott is getting a bit closer to completion every day. But what about the people who will work there? How does one go about staffing a hotel that hasn’t had its first towel stolen yet? That’s what we here at Ithaca Times wondered, so we asked Hart how she will go about finding those who will be the face of Ithaca’s Marriott hotel—the current target opening date is Aug. 23, 2016. 

Business Times: What’s your timeline for hiring managers, with the hotel scheduled to open next summer? 

Cathy Hart: Our director of sales actually started today (Dec. 4). We posted that job in September and hired her in early November. How many ‘keys’ a hotel room has – that’s industry for how many rooms it has – determines the number of managers. With 159 keys, we’ll have 11 managers. The director of sales you plan on coming nine months ahead of opening, so we’re right on schedule with her. The director of maintenance comes on four months before opening. You have to stay within the pre-opening budget … You don’t want to bring people on board and not have things for them to do. Depending on what kind of food and beverage the hotel is going to have, the staffing model can get adjusted somewhat. 

BT:What is your plan for the restaurant space there? What other sorts of amenities are going to be available in this hotel? 

CH: We’ll have a full-service restaurant with three meals and room service. I’m spending all of next week on the concept and design of the restaurant. I’m meeting with Professor [Stephani] Robson who does design and development for the Cornell hotel school to get some input from the local perspective on what will fit within the market. We’ll have a state-of-the-art fitness center and 2,600 square feet of meeting space. 

BT: How are you planning to hire your staff? What’s that process going to look like? 

CH: We’re hoping to hire almost everybody locally. Hopefully I’ll be one of very few people not coming from the area. The front of house folks—with so many tourists and visitors—it would be nice if most have a knowledge of the area, because everyone ends up acting as a concierge. There’s a challenge of very low unemployment in the area, I hear, when meeting with other hotels. Keeping staff, especially line employees who are hourly, certainly sounds like a challenge in Ithaca, at least from a hotel industry perspective. Traditionally there’s a marketing plan for filling the hotel and bringing customers in … I’ve suggested to our director of human resources we put a marketing plan together for associates, getting them to come in and a plan for retaining them. Urgo is typically on the higher end of the pay scale, with excellent benefits. Hopefully that combined with the plan we put together will help keep turnover minimal.

BT: Do you know if there’s any truth to the talk that Urgo is looking for conference center space in Ithaca? 

CH: I would say that’s a very true rumor. [Urgo] did look at a space, which I can’t reveal. We’re in the process of doing a pro forma based on the needs of the market. There are trade shows Ithaca can’t do right now, without a traditional convention hall-type space. With more hotels coming in from a room perspective, in the near future, the next five to six years the market should be able to accommodate the demand for rooms a convention center would create. §

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