Branson hotels rebuilding after tornado damage
Branson hotels rebuilding after tornado damage
23 APRIL 2012 6:31 AM

Repair work is underway for several hotels damaged by an early-morning tornado in Branson, Missouri, on 29 February, though at least one property will be demolished.

BRANSON, Missouri—Of the 11 properties heavily damaged during an early morning tornado 29 February in Branson, Missouri, six have applied for construction permits to repair damage, four have unresolved fates and one—the 104-room JR’s Motor Inn—is scheduled to be demolished.

Most of the repair work has begun. Insurance companies have not yet finished assessing the damage or applying damage cost estimates, said Garrett Anderson, director of economic development for the city of Branson.

“Not all of them will need demolition, but some of them probably will,” Anderson said.

Anderson said how extensive the properties were damaged typically depended on when the properties were developed. “Several of those buildings that sustained major damage were those built prior to codes,” he said. “We had instances where two hotels sat next to each other and the newer one sustained hardly any damage while the older ones sustained major damage.”

Of the estimated 16,000 to 18,000 hotel rooms in the music resort town that sits between two popular fishing lakes in the Ozark Mountains, approximately 10%, or 1,600 rooms, were affected. The largest property affected was the Hilton Branson Convention Center, which is owned by HCW LLC Development. Hilton Worldwide manages the hotel, along with the 242-room Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing across the street.

Convention effects
The Hilton Branson Convention Center’s windows were broken or completely blown out in 214 of its 294 rooms. According to GM Bill Derbins, 47 of the rooms were occupied when the tornado hit the property at approximately 1:20 a.m.

Two guests sustained minor injuries and were treated and released from a local hospital that same day, Derbins said.

The hotel closed that day and will remain closed until at least October. “Part of the reason we closed is that we’re replacing all of the windows in the building,” Derbins said. “We’ve been here five years and if we replaced part of the windows, the tint wouldn’t have been an exact match.”

In addition, the hotel is replacing all of the carpet in the rooms and hotel lobby, as well as all of the soft goods in the rooms. Additionally, the roof was blown off the second floor corridor near the Level2 Steakhouse, snapping fire sprinklers and causing extensive water damage.

Derbins said a complete cost estimate on damages and business losses have not been affixed yet as the insurance company is still assessing damages and bids are still open on some of the repair costs.

The Hilton Promenade has 60 rooms out of service and is expected to be fully operational by June.

The adjoining 220,000-square foot convention center, which is also managed by Hilton and owned by the city of Branson, sustained roof, ceiling and carpet damage. The convention center reopened 7 April and cost of repairs were estimated at $3 million.

Derbins said the convention business in Branson was set to have a busy year before the tornado. The Hilton Branson Convention Center was up 10% in group bookings compared to 2011.

Derbins said approximately 150 conventions were already booked. “We’ve been able to keep about 50% of them so far,” Derbins said. “Some changed the dates, some canceled as they wanted all of their activities under one roof.” Derbins said many of the groups had multi-year contracts and will be back.

Other groups, meantime, have yet to get back with his hotel regarding their plans, he said. For the groups that have stayed, Derbins said they moved some of the hotel reservations to the Hilton Promenade across the street.

Area hotels
Anderson said three other large area hotels have also assisted in booking overflow. The Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri, the Radisson Branson Hotel and the Chateau on the Lake in Branson have booked some groups.

Derbins said free shuttles to the convention center will be provided for all group participants who moved from the Hilton Branson Convention Center downtown.

“We are still working on some groups in September,” Anderson said. “We should get the hotel back September First, but it will be completely empty. It depends on how long it takes us to put it all back together.”

The 164-room Best Western also sustained damage, taking all its rooms offline. The three-building hotel will have two of its buildings operational by May, which will open 80 rooms. The third building sustained more substantial damage. Chris Myer, VP of marketing for Myer Hotels, which owns and operates the Best Western and five other hotels in Branson, said he doesn’t know when that building will be open for business.

“The important thing to remember is that this was not a Joplin event,” Myer, who is also legislative chair for the Branson/Lakes Area Lodging Association, said. “There will be a substantial amount of capital investment put back into the hotels, all to the benefit of the customer.”

Anderson said it is too early to tell the cost of lost business to the city. “Conventions are still being rebooked and everyone is pitching in to absorb the overflow,” he said.

Hotel employment loss was most likely negligible, he said, given the tornado occurred during the off season and other hotels will probably be able to hire employees of properties lost.

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