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The long-awaited reopenings of these premier hotels are cause for celebration

Author CHRIS WRIGHT

04-stay03

Picture 4 of 5

The Hayman resort in Australia

WHEN A GREAT HOTEL CLOSES—whether due to natural disaster, neglect or just changing tastes—a destination loses part of its identity. Luckily, the best hotels do not always go gentle into that good night. Many reopen their doors to reveal vast improvement, be it innovation in design or newfound dedication to service. That they’re back and better than ever is something that has everyone resting easier.

Take London’s St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Back in the 1960s, the sprawling Gothic masterpiece then known as the Midland Grand Hotel was slated for demolition. It survived, only to endure decades of disrepair—until 2002, that is, when a $240 million renovation began. Last year the hotel was reborn as the St. Pancras Renaissance, and it’s a master class in sensitive restoration: The lobby features original ironwork, and the grand staircase is as stunning as it was when the hotel opened in 1873. While guests can immerse themselves in the romance and history of the building, Londoners will be celebrating the hotel’s sheer dramatic beauty for a long time to come.

Sometimes, as with the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, a reopening can take on added significance. This iconic hotel next door to the Superdome was left in ruins by Hurricane Katrina; even today, images of its shattered façade serve as visual shorthand for post-Katrina devastation. But things are looking up. Following a six-year $275 million renovation, the hotel reopened last October and now stands as a potent symbol of the city’s comeback. From the art deco flourishes of its Empire Ballroom to the Spanish-influenced Louisiana seafood at Borgne, its brand-new John Besh restaurant, there’s a sense here that, rather than merely making the best of a bad situation, the hotel seized an opportunity.

The West Indies’ Four Seasons Resort Nevis is another top-tier establishment that’s suffered the destructive power of nature. After being walloped by Hurricane Omar in 2008, the resort shut down for two years. The subsequent $110 million renovation was completed last December, with improvements ranging from redesigned suites to new catch-and-cook dining experiences. The resort has also built a levee as a line of defense (albeit one that has been lovingly landscaped) against the encroaching sea.

When two cyclones hit Australia’s Queensland coast in quick succession last year, Hayman, a historic private-island resort on the Great Barrier Reef, bore the brunt. It reopened last August following a five-month renovation, with additions that include luxury oceanside villas and upgraded leisure facilities. The most remarkable aspect of the project is a lavish botanical garden containing 33,000 plants; the hope is that, along with holidaymakers, the new garden will appeal to the cockatoos and kookaburras that vanished in the cyclones’ wake.

For the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the problem wasn’t so much the elements as the passage of time. Built in the 1920s, this Vancouver landmark once hosted such celebs as Katharine Hepburn and Elvis Presley. By the end of 2006, however, it could no longer simply bathe in the glow of its past. Accordingly, the Rosewood group shut it down and embarked on a four-year redesign with the aim of not only restoring the hotel, but also reinventing it. Last July the results were unveiled—a museum-quality art collection, terraced penthouse suites, a swish poolside bar and more—making the Rosewood once again worthy of the likes of the King, should he choose to return.

The restoration of the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa, was an even trickier proposition. Built in 1910, it is the last hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—and you don’t mess with that man’s work lightly. The original hotel had closed in 1972, with the building gradually falling into disrepair (becoming, as one staffer puts it, “a hotel for pigeons”). Following a two-year $18 million revamp, the Park Inn opened for business in August last year, serving as both a boutique property and a living museum honoring America’s most celebrated architect.

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