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Tarnished Downtown El Paso gem comes back to life at cost of over $100 million

Vic Kolenc
El Paso Times

One of Downtown El Paso’s long-tarnished gems has been refurbished, at a cost estimated at well over $100 million, and brought back to life.

The 351-room, Marriott-branded Hotel Paso del Norte, which first opened its doors in November 1912, and has been closed for about three years for its sometimes troubled renovation, quietly reopened Oct. 8.

“It’s a gem. And it’s just opening its eyes back up again and waking up after all these years,” said Stuart Meyers, chief executive officer of The Meyers Group, a Miami development company, which bought the hotel in late 2016, and partnered with El Paso developer Richard Aguilar to renovate it.

“Everything’s been done to the nines, and some of its been done twice” because of problems with the first contractor that had to be fired, Meyers said. The COVID-19 pandemic also slowed the renovation process and the hotel's opening.

The renovation price tag is almost double the original estimate of $70 million, Meyers said. That would put the renovation cost at almost $140 million.

“But we’re thrilled with the way it came out," Meyers said.

The hotel owners are to get $32.6 million in city and state grants and tax abatement to help pay for the renovation if all requirements are met.

It's located at the start of the South El Paso Street retail district and San Antonio Avenue. It's a neighbor of the also renovated, 130-room Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park, which opened in June.

Dell and Trey Greenwood, the hotel’s first room guests, liked what they saw when they checked-in Thursday afternoon. The Carlsbad, New Mexico natives, who now live in Oklahoma, had stayed in the hotel several times in the past, and on a whim decided to check if the hotel was open when they arrived at the El Paso airport on a business trip.

“We were overwhelmed,” by the renovated hotel, Trey Greenwood said.

The hotel is more contemporary, but still has its historic charm, the Greenwoods said.

Attracting room guests big challenge during COVID-19

Getting many more Greenwoods to book rooms in coming days and weeks is the next difficult task for the hotel's operators as they try to bring in business in the midst of a pandemic.

The Hotel Paso del Norte's first-ever guests Trey and Dell Greenwood make their way to their room on the 16th floor after checking in Thursday, October, 8, 2020.

“It’s going to be challenging, just like any hotel operator in the city or the state. But we know as time goes by things are going to start happening again,” said Carlos Sarmiento, the hotel’s general manager. He's been in the hotel industry about 40 years.

The average occupancy rate for large El Paso hotels is about 30 percent in the pandemic, and Sarmiento said the hotel will slowly build toward that. The hotel has a virus-killing air filtration system as another selling point in the pandemic.

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Current rates for the contemporary looking, 450 square-foot to 650 square-foot rooms, including 38 large suites, range from just over $200 per night to about $290 per night. The hotel also has three larger, more expensive luxury suites, with the 17th-floor, 2,200-square-foot Presidential Suite, scheduled to open in November, the largest. It's now priced at $1,200 per night.

Weddings, banquets, and the hotel’s restaurants and bars, which are open to the public, will help the hotel survive until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and business travel and conventions start coming back, Sarmiento said.

It currently has about 125 employees, with that number expected to grow as the hotel's business grows, he said.

Rooftop patio added where people watched Mexican Revolution

The hotel has two parts -- the 10-story side designed by the late, iconic architect Henry Trost, and a 17-story tower added in the 1980s by a defunct subsidiary of El Paso Electric.

The huge, ground-floor lobby, with its white marble floors and three giant, gold-colored chandeliers, which took months to restore, and the signature Dome Bar, near the lobby, with a 25-foot-wide stained-glass dome installed when the hotel was built 107 years ago, are features familiar to those who frequented the hotel over the years.

The dome bar at the Hotel Paso del Norte retained the historic charm with updated, more modern decor.

The second-floor reception area outside the main, 7,300 square-foot ballroom has new carpeting, and a new wall of plaques bearing the names of famous guests over the hotel's long history -- from Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa to Bono from the Irish rock band U2. Several U.S. presidents also stayed at the hotel.

Many new amenities have been added, most notably a mammoth rooftop patio connected to a large, not-yet-open indoor bar on the 10th floor of the oldest portion of the hotel.

The outdoor patio has spectacular, panoramic views of Downtown and Juarez, Mexico. It's the same area where El Pasoans congregated in the 1920s to watch battles in the Mexican revolution, Sarmiento noted. The 10th floor also now has a small, outdoor pool, exercise room and spa.

The rooftop pool at the new Hotel Paso del Norte in downtown El Paso.

The hotel has three, ground-floor restaurants, the Sabor Cantina with Mexican food, and another large outdoor patio; the yet-to-open 1700º Steak House, next to the Dome Bar; and the Dulce bakery cafe. The Dome Bar serves food as will the rooftop El Mirador bar.

Next to Dulce is Dannah Lane, an upscale Western wear store with El Paso-made boots ranging from $700 to $2,800 and jewelry made by Navajo artists. It's owned by Dannah Meyers, the wife of the hotel owner. 

Hotel's success tied to El Paso attracting future conventions

Much of the hotel’s future success will be tied to attracting convention business. It’s located across the street from the El Paso convention center and it has 33,000 square-feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms.

Bryan Crowe, general manager of Destination El Paso, the city’s convention recruiter, said in an email that the hotel’s 351 “convention-quality rooms,” and its large meeting space make it “a critical component to attracting meetings and conventions to El Paso."

"While the pandemic has led to event cancellations and postponements, we have not slowed our efforts to attract meetings and events to El Paso," which is attractive to meeting planners looking for warm-climate destinations in smaller urban markets, he said.

Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421; on Twitter.

The newly renovated, 351-room Hotel Paso del Norte opened Oct. 8, 2020, in Downtown El Paso. A portion of the Plaza Theater is at the right.