The shine has long since faded and it has been seven years since guests have graced the hallways of Washington’s iconic Watergate Hotel, but the scaffolding, dirt and 250 construction workers onsite are signs change is underway.
A nearly complete, $125 million renovation promises to restore glamour and celebrity to the once high-end hotel inside the 10-acre Watergate complex made famous by the 1972 burglary that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
The hotel’s new owners, Euro Capital Properties, joined Thursday by D.C. officials at a ceremonial topping off of the property’s new grand ballroom, said the hotel will reopen to guests in late summer or early fall. In addition to high-end dining and hospitality, they said, the renovated hotel will feature a rooftop lounge with views of the Potomac River, and a spa and fitness facility with an indoor pool.
“It is really going to be like it used to be; powerful people, intimate conversations, a place where people will feel so special,” said Rakel Cohen, director of design and development with New York- and Paris-based Euro Capital.
Claudia Buttaro-Pfeffer, who witnessed the glory years — and the fall — of the hotel that opened in 1965, said members of the Watergate community are excited about the project and hope it will rejuvenate the area.
In the old days, she said, “we saw a lot of excitement and life.” But after the prosperous years faded away and the hotel closed in 2007, local businesses felt its absence deeply.
“It’s been hard for all of us, but we kept hoping for the best,” said Buttaro-Pfeffer, who owns a salon and spa in the complex. Her family owned a boutique at the entrance of the hotel that became a favorite stop of government officials, diplomats and celebrities, who performed next door at the Kennedy Center.
City officials say the completion of the multimillion-dollar renovation means not only the return of hotel clientele to area businesses, but also 350 full-time jobs and tax revenue for the city.
“Because it is world-known . . . it will bring a lot of visitors here,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the area. He said the city would benefit from hospitality and retail taxes and visitors’ spending in the area’s restaurants and shops. “It will be a boon for our economy.”
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called the project a job generator for D.C. residents.
“The sounds you hear are D.C. residents — I hope — working,” she said, with the sounds of hammering, pounding and drilling in the background of Thursday’s event.
With just under a year of construction, the hotel’s transformation is starting to take shape. Workers have finished the utility work, the framing of the rooftop lounge and the ballroom. During the next phase of construction, more than 300 workers will be onsite, finishing the walls and roofing, waterproofing, installing elevators, millwork, granite and marble finishes.
The owners say the Watergate will be a five-star hotel with room rates starting at $400 a night. Guests and visitors will have access to a whiskey bar and casual and fine dining. Some of the hotel’s historical elements, including its grand staircase, are being preserved, Cohen said.
The hotel, which originally had no terraces and limited meeting space, will reopen with 27,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
Guests should notice the elegance the moment they step inside, said Janie Bryant, an Emmy Award winning television costume designer who is designing the hotel’s retro-inspired uniforms, incorporating the gold camel Watergate color.
“It is about the architecture, and it is also about the experience when you first walk in that door,” said Bryant, costume designer for “Mad Men.” That experience, she said, will begin when “a glamorous, elegant doorman opens the door for you and a very stylish bellman takes your luggage.”
Buttaro-Pfeffer said the renovated hotel will bring a sense of renewal to the Watergate complex where her family has worked for 50 years.
“It is exciting to see it come back to life,” she said. “It is a landmark. There is no place like the Watergate.”