Spectacular interior architecture is the trademark of the Hyatt Hotels, a family-owned company that has succesfully marketed flashy and opulent hotels in places where older hotels have been closing and in times when hotel chains have been suffering financially.
The key to that success has been bold architecture and the promotion of such events as the "tea dance" held in many Hyatt Hotels. But with its successes, the hotel chain must now count a human disaster.
The Hyatt Corp., with 59 hotels in American and 11 more under way, is the property of the Pritzker family of Chicago, one of the nation's wealthiest families. The family financial empire comprises domestic and international hotel chains, and has financial and manufacturing holdings valued at more than a billion dollars.
The Pritzkers have held onto the chain against more than one attempt to buy, and have pushed an aggressive building campaign where others have been cautious. With an eye to booming downtown renovations, Hyatt has joined in building multiuse complexes that include office towers, stores, apartments and convention centers including ones in San Francisco, Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Crown Center complex in Kansas City.
"A place you talk about after you've been there" is the way Hugo Friend, former Hyatt president, once described what the company sought to achieve in its hotels. One of the ways Hyatt has generated talk is through stunning architecture -- greenery and great atriums, glass elevators and balconies looking down several stories to fountained lobbies.
Such was the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City, a 40-story building patterned after the 113-year-old Galleria in Milan, with the special addition of three 145-foot walkways that traversed the 15,000-square-foot atrium from a tower of hotel rooms to an adjacent tower of restaurants and ballrooms. It was this atrium and the arching walkways above it that drew thousands to the hotel's heavily promoted weekly "tea dances."
"The catwalks were designed to hold people shoulder-to-shoulder, as many as you can jam on there," Pat Foley, president of Hyatt International, said yesterday.
Apparently the only other Hyatt with similar walkways is the Hyatt O'Hare, at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. That one has a central glass elevator tower and 50-foot walkways going out on each floor to the guest rooms.
"We intend to have our walkways reevaluated just as a precaution," Tom Gaskill, manager of the O'Hare hotel, said yesterday. "But we feel they are safe and well constructed."
The Hyatt in Kansas City, which opened one year ago this month, was called one of the city's most attractive features, with its lobby sculptures by prominent artists and its skylit atrium. The city's leading families paid $1,000 a couple to join in the all-night grand opending party. It has become one of the more successful of the Hyatt hotels, and the jewel of the Crown Center developement just south of downtown.
The hotel was designed by a consortium of three architectural firms well-known in Kansas City, spun off from the firms of Patty Berkebile and Nelson, Duncan Architects, and Monroe and Lefebvre. It is a key part of a large redevelopment project planned to enliven some 25 blocks of the south midtown area.
Crown Center Redevelopment Corp. owns the $500 million complex and the hotel, and Hyatt manages the hotel. Crown Center, too, is a family-run business, owned by the Hall family of Hallmark cards. Crown Center hired the architects and the construciton firm, Eldridge and Sons, to build the Hyatt.Eldridge has built many of the other buildings in the complex and, although there have been four fatal accidents during construciton, there have been no structural failure accidents in the 13 years of those projects, according to Bill Johnson, spokesman for Crown Center.
Hyatt has "in excess of $100 million" in insurance on the hotel, said spokeswoman Karen Blecha. It is not known how much insurance Crown Center carries, or whether the Hyatt and Crown insurance will be sufficient to cover losses and whatever lawsuits may stem from the disaster.