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OLD EYESORE BECOMES NEW CLARION IN A FLURRY OF COOL TONES, CHERRY WOOD

SHARE OLD EYESORE BECOMES NEW CLARION IN A FLURRY OF COOL TONES, CHERRY WOOD

Until recently, the former Ramada Inn at 999 S. Main was inviting only to an occasional transient who sought shelter there from the cold.

Even Lorin Leavitt, who last fall began renovating the 26-year-old hotel, described it as an eyesore. "It looked pretty rough going in," he said.But Leavitt, who also refurbished the Peery Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, enjoys the challenge of transforming a decrepit building into a showpiece.

Amid the pounding of hammers and whine of power tools, the Clarion Hotel Salt Lake City is taking shape.

The lobby - graced with stained and leaded glass, a new tile-faced fireplace and flowing staircase - is warm and inviting.

Wood is plentiful in the common area, from the mahogany front desk to the key slots, door molding and baseboards salvaged from the former Hotel Utah.

Although the renovation will not be completed until September, the hotel open for business Wednesday. About 50 guests are expected this weekend.

To describe the hotel's face lift as a renovation project is something of a misnomer, Leavitt said. "It's really more like new construction than renovation because it's so complete," said Leavitt, general manager of the hotel.

In September, crews rid the building of asbestos. The electrical, mechanical, heating and cooling systems were replaced as well as the kitchens in the restaurant and banquet areas.

Every pane of glass in the hotel been replaced with energy-efficient windows. The former swimming pool and whirlpool bath were buried and replaced with a new year-round recreation area that features a new pool and hot tub. The enclosed spa will be surrounded by a putting green, two tennis courts and a children's playground.

"This building is in better shape now than it was when it was new," said Leavitt.

The hotel has 263 rooms, among them about 50 suites and a presidential suite that can also be used as a small meeting room. The suites feature microwave ovens and refrigerators, video cassette recorders and remote-control televisions.

The rooms, decorated in cool mint and blue tones, are furnished in either pine, mahogany or cherry wood. "This is not typical hotel furniture," Leavitt said, running his hand across a cherry dining room table.

For conventions and large groups, the hotel has adjoining meeting rooms that can seat up to 500 people banquet style. The rooms have been redecorated and the banquet kitchen has been refurbished.

The hotel also features a sit-down restaurant and a private club that will feature one of three baby grand pianos salvaged from the Hotel Utah.

Top to bottom, inside and out, the hotel has a new look. The Ramada's trademark red brick is gone. The exterior of the hotel resembles a mansion on a southern plantation.

The hotel also will house a gift shop/convenience store, in which hotel guests may buy fresh food when the hotel restaurant is closed, chose among a small library of video tapes and other toiletries.

The renovation is admittedly a lot of hard work ("I'm here a minimum of 12 hours a day and at least six - sometimes seven - days a week," he said) but Leavitt said the makeover has been enjoyable.

"It's really an awful lot of fun. It's been three or four years since I've done a project like this."

The hotel, owned by Kimball Investment Co., is the first Clarion hotel in Utah.

The owners announced in November the hotel would be opened in March as a Best Western Hotel under the name Garden Park Inn. Leavitt said the owners subsequently negotiated an agreement with Clarion, the upper-scale hotels of the Quality International chain.

The rooms, Leavitt said, are comparable to those at the Marriott, Little America and the Red Lion. However, the price - $59 to $79 a night - is a little more palatable to business travelers.

Though the hotel folded under previous ownership, Kimball said he believes the Clarion name, freedom from congestion in downtown Salt Lake City and ease of parking will help the new hotel flourish.

"What we're trying to do is give the best value in Salt Lake City."