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Going After New Markets: Owners Change Old Granit

Rich Newman
Staff Writer

December 30, 1998

KERHONKSON--New owners of the former Granit Hotel are looking to corporate conventions as a key part of a market diversification plan they hope will save the resort from the fate of recently shuttered competitors Grossingers, the Pines and the Concord.

A group of Taiwanese and American investors are spending an estimated $20 million to rehabilitate the circa 1954 resort.

Essex County, N.J., lawyer William Pan and several partners bought the resort a year ago for $2.2 million from mortgage holder Key Bank. They're developing a marketing strategy that changes with the seasons, and have hired key people from the Concord, Mohonk Mountain House, New York Palace, and Windows on the World.

The traditional Jewish clientele is expected for Passover and in July and August, Pan said. But after Labor Day the emphasis will be on selling to associations and small and medium-sized corporate conventions and retreats.

"We believe it's going to work," said Pan, who, with groups of investors, has bought and sold a couple of hotels in recent years, including the Meadowlands Hilton and the Hyatt in Cherry Hill.

Operating for the past year as The Hudson Valley Resort, Pan has already hosted several small conventions including one from MetLife and one from MCI.

Pan said that when he bought the Granit in a foreclosure sale he thought, "This is the most beautiful place. And to be within two hours' drive of New York City and to have no business, I don't believe it."

Although bookings have been sporadic over the past year, most of the 300-room resort remains open while renovation work continues.

In front, the pool has been refurbished. A gazebo will be installed on the lawn for weddings. The county is moving the entrance road and parking will be relocated to be hidden from the entrance. Among the amenities geared for corporate groups are a cigar bar and a modern amphitheater being built in existing space to seat 200 to 250 with audiovisual capability and data ports for laptop computers.

The 18-hole golf course, now par 70, will be reconfigured to a par 72 with direct access to the first tee from the back of the hotel.

Among the talent Pan has recruited is Scott Moroski, an Ellenville native and former executive banquet chef from Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center.

An 8,000-square-foot spa will replace the old skating rink. The spa will be managed by an outside firm.

HVR is developing so-called "team building" programs similar to those offered to corporate clients already at the Mohonk Mountain House near New Paltz and the much smaller 34-room New Age Health Spa in Neversink.

Mohonk built a conference center nine years ago. "We have a very strong base of social guests, but we also realized it's important to have a conference facility," said Nina Smiley, director of marketing at Mohonk.

"We found groups often like to get out of the city and have an opportunity to walk and talk and have a sense of place," she said.

Corporate meetings are "not a huge portion of our business," said Patricia Fahey, marketing director at New Age Health Spa. There, the team building program for corporate clients includes workouts on an obstacle course made of ropes. "It challenges someone emotionally, physically and spiritually," said Fahey. Mohonk offers rock climbing, and HVR plans to also.

Peter Carofano, director of Ulster County Tourism, said he believes HVR is on the right track by changing its name to show a tie to the Hudson Valley.

"They're not in the the Catskills," he said, hastening to add he means "nothing negative against the Catskills.

"The work they have done on that place is exquisite," he said. "Marketing to the corporate client is an excellent idea."

Hotel staff stay away from old connections.

"When people ask where we are it hurts that we have to say we're the old Granit. The Granit had the Catskill connotation," said Philip Deblinger, the new manager of the hotel.

The Hudson Valley Resort's once-glamorous Catskill connections are "irrelevant to corporate clients," said Deblinger.

He said that with corporate earnings on the decline many will be looking to cut costs like travel expenses and will be glad to find quality accommodations closer to home.

"The goal is to make it a four-star hotel," he said.