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Severe weather leads to lost power at some hotels, no occupancy at others

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
Severe weather led to power outages at some hotels, while others received a rush of bookings.

The boutique Carpenter Hotel, which is owned and operated by the Austin-based Mighty Union hospitality group, had about 25% of its 93 rooms occupied Saturday night in the leadup to Valentine’s Day. 

And the icy conditions over the weekend led to a smaller than expected Sunday night dinner service of a special Valentine’s Day meal at the hotel’s Carpenters Hall, with the restaurant serving about one-third the number of guests originally expected. 

But the overnight winter storm Sunday led to a rush of demand for rooms from local residents.

Hotel general manager Nate Wells said calls started coming in Monday morning for reservations. By noon, he said, the Zilker neighborhood hotel had no capacity. 

Not all of the rooms were being filled by visitors, however, as the hotel placed staffers in about a dozen rooms to keep them from having to travel in dangerous conditions. The hotel curtailed their food and beverage operations to serve only guests Monday due to the small size of their on-site staff and the desire to keep employees from having to travel.

Monday was the first time since the first week of March last year that the Carpenter has operated at full capacity (a few rooms were being cleaned Monday in preparation for Tuesday availability). As of Monday afternoon, the Carpenter had not experienced any interrupted services.

Wells, who talked to the American-Statesman while sitting in his car in South Austin so he could charge his phone, said he was glad that the hotel could be there for its staff and the community during such dire times. 

“I’m glad that we have stable power and that we have heat and resources available for people who need a warm place to sleep,” he said. “I’m grateful we took care of the restaurant team and they can now pay it forward to guests who are there now. It’s one of those challenging weeks, but when you’ve got a good team of people they come together to take care of people.”

Less than 2 miles away, a skeleton crew at the South Congress Hotel, which is operated by Austin company New Waterloo, was working Monday afternoon to take care of guests while dealing with limited resources. The hotel, which was booked to about 25% capacity, lost power at 2 a.m. Monday, hampering communication systems and making the kitchens inoperable, according to New Waterloo director of marketing Alexis Lanman. 

New Waterloo’s Hotel Ella, at Judges Hill, was operating Monday afternoon with a similarly curtailed crew size, but with the benefit of power. Lanman said the hotel was booked to about 75% capacity, with many of the rooms occupied by team members from neighboring KXAN-TV, which had rented rooms for its staff. The Ella was not taking any additional reservations Monday afternoon because of the reduced size of the hotel staff. 

“Our priority is to keep everyone on the properties, including our teams, safe,” Lanman said. “Really proud of the staff making it work under these circumstances. This one is definitely not something us central Texans usually expect from Mother Nature.”

The DoubleTree near the intersection of Interstate 35 and U.S. 290 in Northeast Austin was fully booked Monday afternoon.

On Sunday, "everybody was coming in to avoid the weather," said Julian Fuentes, a front desk manager. "They'd lost power or they were just trying to get off the roads."

Many guests came in Sunday, stayed overnight and were planning to stay overnight into Tuesday, Fuentes said.

Hotel chains such as the Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

American-Statesman staff writer Katie Hall contributed to this report.