Veteran Starwood GM Jonathan Litvack has witnessed the dramatic revitalization of LA’s downtown over the past three years, a change that is mirrored in his hotel.
LOS ANGELES—For Jonathan Litvack, arriving to take the reins of the Sheraton Grand Los Angeles in 2013, it was overwhelmingly “a tired hotel in a tired market.”
Since then, he has overseen a dramatic transformation of the 26-story hotel, a change which mirrored that of the downtown district, and particularly the retail hub it fits within.
“I got to see this hotel evolve from a franchise management situation and from a tired position to state of the art,” Litvack said. “I also got to see downtown emerge from a sleepy neglected under-attended district to a vibrant core. And it's all been very rapid and recent, starting out most visibly over the past five years.”
The hotel, also known as the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown, is part of a vibrant retail and office precinct in the Financial District known as The Bloc. The Ratkovich Company and partner National Real Estate Advisors has managed what Litvack estimates will be a $500-million makeover of the mall, offices and 496-room hotel.
At the top end of South Hope Street, The Bloc is a minute’s walk from 7th Street/Metro Center subway, and less than half a mile from L.A. Live’s theatre, museums and restaurants.
The remake has been incredibly serendipitous hinging on a mix of great timing, location and market dynamics, Litvack said.
“The re-emergence of downtown has exceeded all expectations,” he said, “and the hotel, too, has yielded up well beyond expectations for this location. ... That change has done really well for the hotel while we’ve provided a much desired and needed hotel in the downtown community.”
Litvack said both the hotel and the district needed each other to go forward.
“The development has been very opportunistic, and comes down to ‘location, location’ ... and to economic dynamism,” he said.
Litvack began his career training as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1985.
Working for Hilton throughout the 1990s, he oscillated between executive chef and hotel manager. Eventually, he switched permanently to GM due to “career growth and opportunity, combined with what I came to realize were my greater strengths in leadership.”
“Growing up, cooking was always of interest and a passion,” he said. “But as I grew older, it became evident to me that my creative side, which culinary requires, was not my strongest. My strength was in organizing, mentoring and teaching. That led me towards the alternate path of general manager.”
A rising Starwood star
From 2006, Litvack moved through the Starwood ranks first as GM at The Westin Pasadena, then at The Westin LA Paloma Resort & Spa in Tuscon, Arizona. Three years ago, he arrived at the Sheraton Grand Los Angeles—at that time the newest hotel in the Starwood portfolio.
Not only has Litvack supervised its conversion from a franchise to a Starwood managed hotel, in
2014-15 he navigated the property through a massive $75-million renovation, while personally manicuring a leadership team and other “underlying talent.”
“The facelift involved a full remodel of every space of the hotel,” he said. “The rooms, the F&B spaces ... it was so expensive because it actually went way beyond that.”
It’s the sleek lobby, with its shimmering pillars and oversized chesterfields, that involved the greatest toil.
“Our arrival system experience was below ground, so we tore out the escalators and brought the lobby up and into the light,” Litvack said. “Meanwhile guestroom decor and amenities changed significantly, with rich colors and mauves replacing the worn, old yellow tones.”
The renovation also included a total overhaul of the plumbing, wiring and internet.
“The old two-pipe system couldn’t keep up with the climate change in the 90- to 100-degree weather. So we went from two pipes to four. ... That alone cost $8 million.”
Meanwhile, the GM observed unprecedented and dramatic change of downtown Los Angeles, as thousands of young people moved into the area.
“It started coming in very faintly … around the time the recession began in 2007-08,” he said. “The JW Marriott and the Ritz were just starting to come online at L.A. Live—not just the events but all the new restaurants, too. And the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“The arrival of the Staples Center gave you that opportunity where you could make an experience. Developing the transport, the subway, has been part of that, and now it goes all over the place, through to the Hollywood Bowl and the bay (Santa Monica), just in the last few months.”
As a result, Litvack said he feels like a proud father at the helm of the hotel.
“A tired hotel in a tired market will have a different clientele, of course, than an up-and-coming, exciting hotel in a dynamic market,” he said. “Downtown needed this hotel to come out of its tired and sleepy stance and become a premier hotel. This one rivals all the others—the Western La Paloma, the JW—in its design and amenities and centralized location. … If you’re coming to see Greater Los Angeles, this is the best location ... the most central hotel in Greater LA.”
It will soon be joined by the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, as well as the InterContinental brand’s Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown, among other developments.
“The hotels have come out of the ground, as well as housing,” Litvack said. “So now you not only get to work downtown ... you get to play downtown and you get to live downtown. This has been a stunning rebirth.”