Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort completes $16M revitalization

PO‘IPU — The Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort has announced the completion of its 15-month revitalization project totaling more than $16 million in additions and renovations. A grand opening is scheduled in June.

Upgrades and additions to the 394-room resort include a refurbished entrance, an upgraded and redecorated Ocean Lobby, a new open-air Ocean Courtyard, a Link Café for guests, a new water park, a new pool, banquets rooms, the new Luana Kai oceanfront function space, Lavash poolside dining and RumFire restaurant and bar.

“We are very excited and proud to introduce an extraordinary new playground to Po‘ipu Beach,” Chip Bahouth, general manager of the Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort, states in a news release.

RumFire was a $6 million project, which boasts an  ocean-inspired design in white and light-blue tones, natural dark wood tables and chairs, upholstery in each of the private booths, blown-glass lighting fixtures and partition curtains that separate two private dining areas.

The menu features Hawaiian-rooted cuisine with global influences.

The menu was designed by new executive chef Leanne Kamekona, who is said to be the mastermind behind the restaurant’s signature culinary creations.

Kamekona said she was born and raised on the Big Island and worked within the islands before transferring to California, where she was chef at the five-star Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa, which Sheraton took over from the Marriott in July 2006, she said.

Kamekona’s new open-air kitchen at the Sheraton overlooks the restaurant’s circular bar. Food and beverage director Harolyn Shimabukuro-Miyashiro said RumFire has a fresh, contemporary flair.

RumFire was previously The Shells, a Pacific Rim restaurant, and The Point, an outdoor-indoor bar area.

Director of sales and marketing Brent Lausterer said Shimabukuro-Miyashiro and Kamekona are one of only two executive women’s teams within Starwood of Hawai‘i. “And they’re both local girls, which is great,” resort sales director Alvin Wong said.

“It’s a male-dominated field,” Shimabukuro-Miyashiro said, “but it’s just ironic that chef and I are together and have been hired to work on this project.”

The original Waikiki RumFire is more of a bar concept, she said, whereas the Po‘ipu RumFire is more of a restaurant concept.

“We have the opportunity to be the flagship,” she said. “The next one they’re possibly looking at doing right now is at the Westin Maui.”

Links Cafe for guests, offered at every Sheraton location, provides “everything a person could want in a grab-and-go situation,” Shimabukuro-Miyashiro said, including Starbucks coffee, beverages, snacks and sandwiches, a place to meet, connect and relax.

The new open-air Ocean Courtyard is landscaped and adorned with tiki torches. It features six conversational seating areas, three of which have fire pits, creating an inviting evening setting for cocktails under the stars, she said.

“The plan is to have cocktail service out by the fire pits, though it’s not being offered just yet,” she said.

Plans are also in the works to offer a Social Hour starting in May that will feature wines from the Wine Spectator list at “a very affordable prices and a beautiful setting,” she said.

The hotel also plans to open RF Lounge in May or June, she said, and it will offer live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

The hotel’s newest water park features an expanded, multi-level pool that sits just above the shore, and has eight private cabanas, each named for a native Hawaiian flower and fully equipped with beach furniture, flat-screen TVs and ceiling fans.

For those seeking a venue for meetings, banquets or special celebrations, the new Luana Kai, overlooking Po’ipu Beach, is the only oceanfront function space on Kaua‘i, she said.

“Group sales is not only a rooms issue but a banquet and food issue, so between the corporate incentive market and the wedding market there’s a lot of great opportunities, and the expectations are high in those markets,” Wong said.

“We’re going to compete a little bit more with the Grand Hyatt and the Kaua‘i Marriott because now the physical plant is really more on an even level with the great locations that sit on Po‘ipu Beach,” Wong said.

The Kaua‘i project

Lausterer, the sales and marketing director, said the Sheraton has spent $200 million on the renovation of its Waikiki property and $400 million altogether on hotel upgrades across the state. Worldwide, the company has spent $6 billion on its hotels, with $4 billion spent in Asia alone, he said.

Factoring in all the costs of construction and revenues lost during construction at Sheraton Kaua‘i, general manager Bahouth estimates the real cost of the project far exceeded $16 million.

“The renovation was budgeted for $16 million,” Bahouth said. “We’re over that number now. I think we’re going to be just a little bit north of $18 million in actual construction costs. The hotel lost, in cash, another $4.3 million as a result of staying open during renovation. So now we’re in for $22 to $23 million.”

It’s just the cost of doing business, he said. “You can’t look at it as $23 million, and I need to get it all back in five years. It’s not how you’ve got to look at this. You’ve got to look at it in terms of the viability of the business long-term and the presence that Sheraton and Starwood want to have in this market.”

The contractor for the project was Case, which the Starwood brand has worked with in the past, Wong said. The design company was Cadiz Design Studio in Los Angeles, he said.  

Adjacent to the hotel, Carpenters Union members still gather regularly to display a big yellow banner that says “Awe, shame on you,” directed at the Sheraton.

“The challenge is we’re a publicly held, traded, Fortune 500 company,” Bahouth said. “So when you go out to do a $16 million project and you bid it out … you’ve got to go with the best bid. The guys with the best bid were chosen. We have stockholders to answer to.”

He said the project was a renovation, not new construction, and the Mainland contractor subcontracted to local trades.

The original project and permitting were based on plans developed five years ago, resort sales director Wong said, and included a vacation-ownership component across the street. But before the project could start, it was put on hold because of changes in the market, Wong said. When the project relaunched in late 2010, the vacation-ownership plan was scrapped.  

“The plans changed, but we did the public areas of the plan,” Wong said. “We just did not do the rooms portion of the vacation-ownership units.”

Asked if the vacation-ownership units will be offered in the future, Wong said, “Anything is possible. … It all depends of the market and if we continue to trend in a positive direction. Airlift is, year-over-year, growing, with flights added by Alaska Air,” he said. “Everything in Hawai‘i is dictated by air.”

Oil prices and tourism

Wong said tourism is trending in the right direction, and there’s market stability.

“The unknown factor beyond our control is the price of oil,” he said.

“The challenge with Hawai‘i is you have to ride a fossil fuel to get here,” Bahouth said. “If tickets get up to the $1,000 range, tourism will tank. If we hit that tipping point, it could be a disaster for this island. … We have to be very careful in how we target in our markets, know who they are and get them here, and take very good care of them because that’s going to be our best form of advertising.”

He said most of their guests (approximately 35 percent) come from the West Coast, and there are very few Asian visitors.

“They will come for day tours, or max one or two nights,” he said.

 Now hiring

The Sheraton Kaua‘i will hold its grand opening in June, Shimabukuro-Miyashiro said.

The holdup, Bahouth said, is the property can’t find enough workers. So far, 25 positions have been added in food and beverage.

“We’ve have had four job fairs in the last six weeks,” he said. “We can’t find people. We’re still looking.”

Server, host and bartending positions are open, Shimabukuro-Miyashiro said.

 The challenge in hiring, she said, “is that those who are very good in the industry, have found their places, have found their homes, so why would they leave to come to something that is unknown right now? We’re unknown. People have heard about us, but they don’t know if they’re going to make money here.”

She said they’re hiring employees who are willing to take a chance.

For more information, visit www.sheraton-kauai.com or call 742-1661.  

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 251, or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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