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Adam's Mark fights an image: Problems from parking to a $2 million plumbing disaster plague the Super Bowl hotel

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on January 16, 2005.

As the Adam's Mark hotel continues to prep for its week in the Super Bowl spotlight, it has had to deal with behind-the-scenes issues -- including valet parking delays and room service snafus -- that have had the National Football League concerned about its headquarters hotel.

Someone with the NFL has said "it would be best not to stay at the Adam's Mark," said Ira Miller, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who has covered Super Bowls since 1978.

Miller switched his reservation to the Marriott hotel, saying he had been told the Adam's Mark, where NFL officials will be staying, had "service issues," especially in the wake of a malfunction that flooded 240 rooms in the 19-floor hotel Dec. 1.

The $2 million of damage came at a particularly bad time for the hotel: 125 NFL officials stayed there a few days before the Jaguars-Steelers game on Dec. 5. The malfunctioning pump that led to six-inch-deep puddles on the 19th floor and damage as far down as the fourth floor forced the hotel to relocate guests, including 45 league officials, to hotels from St. Augustine to South Georgia.

"I've never stayed there," Miller said about the Adam's Mark. "They might be perfectly charming people. But I've heard enough stories and been through enough."

The NFL and the manager say problems that have arisen have been dealt with.

Publicly, the NFL has expressed confidence in the hotel, saying that as issues have come up, they have been dealt with.

"They've worked very, very hard," said Jim Steeg, the league executive in charge of the event who has overseen every Super Bowl since 1980. "Do I have concerns? I have concerns about everything. That's my job."

The NFL is happy about staying there, Steeg said, although he admitted other hotels might be more convenient for reporters. Only 250 of the 1,500-member press corps expected to cover the game are staying at the Adam's Mark, with the others staying in Southpoint.

"It's more convenient for them to get where they have to get," Steeg said, talking about shuttles from Southpoint hotels to the Renaissance World Golf Village and Marriott Sawgrass, where the teams will be staying. "They're saving themselves 20 to 40 minutes going back and forth."

Steeg said he has spent about 70 nights in the Adam's Mark over the past year, providing a good sense of what areas might need work.

"We've certainly addressed them," he said, although he declined to discuss specific items of concern.

"That's for us and them to talk about."

General Manager Mark Kaiser said among the issues the football league has brought up are long waits for room service orders and concerns about parking. Both of those issues have been dealt with, he said, by making structural changes in the hotel's behind-the-scenes operations.

Room-service orders now come out of a different kitchen than restaurant food and are delivered in a reserved elevator, making delivery times much quicker, Kaiser said.

Worries about parking -- which came up when league officials were at the hotel over the New Year's holiday -- will be addressed by reserving the hotel's entire parking garage for hotel guests only and by moving the valet parking area to the Newnan Street side of the hotel, which will cut the distance valets must travel to the garage.

Employee parking will be moved off-site, freeing up spots, and work shifts will be extended to 12 hours from eight, cutting down on the number of employees coming and going.

With those changes, Kaiser said, the Adam's Mark staff -- which will swell by about 100 people -- is prepared for the entire extravaganza, during which the general manager expects to work 22-hour days.

"I've got a great staff here," Kaiser said. "They're jazzed and ready to go."

Kaiser, the hotel's eighth general manager since it opened in 2001, has been on duty since mid-November, taking over from a man who'd been managing the hotel for less than a year.

One concern Kaiser doesn't have is a repeat of December's flooding emergency, the first in the hotel's history. Not only is it unlikely to happen again, Kaiser said, but it was handled well when it did happen.

"I have full confidence in my staff. Whatever the building throws at them they'll be able to accept and rebound," Kaiser said.

All of the damaged rooms have been repaired and were reopened at the end of December.

The hotel's Super Bowl enhancements, including new menus, additional bars, outdoor entertainment and other amenities, will be rolled out starting this week, with extra staff members -- about 100 of the 450 applicants the hotel received, as well as managers from around the Adam's Mark chain -- coming on board over the next few days.

Those staff members will spend the next couple of weeks getting to know the hotel and the Super Bowl enhancements, while also taking care of the guests who will staying at the oft-sold-out building during that time, including the NFL officials who have already started arriving.

"We're trying it out on a full house," Kaiser said.

As the big game gets closer, he said, both new and old staff members will know their way around the hotel well enough to be able to focus on providing high-quality, friendly service.

"The hotel business is pretty simple," Kaiser said. "The thing that makes the difference is the attitude of the staff."

The Adam's Mark has long been vital to the city's Super Bowl plans, dating back to Jacksonville's initial bid, when the hotel was still under construction. As the game approaches, those responsible for bringing it here say they think the hotel will be ready.

"The hotel is of prime importance to the operation of Super Bowl week," said Michael Kelly, president of the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee.

"Being a hotel headquarters for the Super Bowl is a challenge for any hotel," he said. "I think everyone is very confident that they're prepared."

timothy.gibbons@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4103

WHAT WENT WRONG -- AND RIGHT

Issues similar to those the National Football League has had with the Adam's Mark popped up during a reporter's unannounced weekend stay at the league's Super Bowl headquarters. Despite a generally high level of service, some snafus did occur. Among them:

VALET SERVICE: Despite calling down to the valet service 15 minutes ahead of time, a valet was not dispatched to collect the car until the guest showed up out front.

ROOM SERVICE: A late-night dinner order took 31 minutes to show up, rather than 20 minutes as promised. A breakfast order left hanging on the doorknob got lost between the room and the kitchen. The absence of the order was discovered when the reporter called down to change it 45 minutes before it was due; the attendant allowed a new order to be placed at the "late-night" price and delivered it on time.

ENTERTAINMENT: Concierge and front desk staff members had difficulty coming up with a good place to get a drink nearby at 11:30 Friday night. (Less of an issue, of course, during the Super Bowl festivities.) A particularly helpful front desk clerk volunteered to call the one establishment anyone could come up with to make sure it was open.

Still, there were a host of high points, including:

LAUNDRY SERVICE: Clothes were returned early, despite a last-minute request for a change in service.

FREE UPGRADE: When the waterfront room that had been reserved turned out not to be available, the clerk provided an upgrade to a mini-suite.

FRIENDLY STAFF MEMBERS: Every employee encountered -- from wait staff to housekeepers to valets to managers -- offered a smile and a "hello."

LOST AND FOUND: A perennial bugaboo at many hotels, items left behind upon checkout were quickly and safely returned.

Timothy J. Gibbons/Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE ADAM'S MARK TIMELINE

June 1998: The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission awards the hotel company more than $21 million in incentives, the largest economic development project the commission handled.

June 2000: The team working on getting the Super Bowl in Jacksonville discusses housing the national media at the Adam's Mark during the week.

Feb. 28, 2001: The Jacksonville Adam's Mark officially opens for business, with 600 of its 966 rooms ready for guests. The hotel is the largest in the area.

Aug. 10, 2001: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People pickets the Jacksonville hotel as part of a companywide protest related to a discrimination lawsuit the NAACP filed related to events at the chain's Daytona Beach location.

October 2001: The chain fires 20 percent of its managers -- including some in Jacksonville. The job cuts are blamed on business slowdowns related to the 9/11 attacks.

November 2001: Columbia Sussex Corp. of Kentucky agrees to buy six Adam's Mark hotels, not including the Jacksonville location.

January 2002: Adam's Mark calls off the sale to Columbia Sussex after denying a contract extension requested by the would-be buyer.

Feb. 5, 2002: The Jacksonville hotel's sixth general manager takes over.

October 2002: The Adam's Mark -- and about 13 other area hotels -- asks the city to lower the assessed value of its property, saying low occupancy rates made the site less valuable.

Jan. 12, 2004: The hotel installs its seventh general manager, Ben Soto.

Nov. 15: Mark Kaiser takes over as the Adam's Mark's eighth general manager.

Dec. 1: A malfunctioning pump puts 240 rooms out of service, including those used by about 45 NFL officials.

Timothy J. Gibbons/Times-Union



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This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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