| Sun Journal
After being closed for more than two years due to damages from Hurricane Florence, the DoubleTree Hilton in downtown New Bern is scheduled to reopen in early-mid November, according to hotel management.
Along with the nearby New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, which reopened in October 2019, the DoubleTree Hilton serves as one of downtown New Bern’s main economic drivers.
The hotel has been closed since Hurricane Florence churned through the area in September 2018. Marty Matfess, chief operating Officer, SIG Management, confirmed Wednesday that repair work is nearing completion at the hotel, which received damage to 85 percent of its 171 rooms during Hurricane Florence and was forced to lay off most of its 115 employees on staff. According to Matfess, the Doubletree’s entire roof was replaced in the main building, as well as a sub-roof above the restaurant. The repair work has also included new drywall and the replacement of all carpet, wall paper, and interior paint.
“Most of the exterior work has been completed and now it’s just the finishing touches,” said Matfess. “We’ve decided to replace most of the furniture in the rooms and all the drapes. Although they weren’t destroyed they weren’t in the condition that we wanted to reopen with. The lobby and public areas are pretty much done, the fitness center’s done. We’re waiting on the furniture to come in and we’re working with the city to get the final certificate of occupancy, but it’s coming together nicely.”
Matfess said the hotel will initially reopen 99 rooms in the main building. He said while jobs will be available for any staff that want to return, many have moved on to other jobs.
“Our chef has left the area, a couple of our prior managers have left the area. Of course the employees that did work for us we’d greet with open arms but I think most have moved on. We’ve already begun hiring,” said Matfess.
In May 2019, SIG Management agreed to complete all repairs to the DoubleTree Hilton in eight months and to reopen within 14 months. The agreement came after the City of New Bern issued both a nuisance abatement letter and a Chapter 39 Non Residential Building Code Standards letter to SIG Management. A building permit to perform repairs on the DoubleTree Hilton was purchased on October 7, 2019 and contractors began the initial phase of the repair work the following month.
Matfess said the planned reopening has been slowed by ongoing negotiations with the hotel’s insurance company as well and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID hasn’t slowed down construction but it certainly slowed down our rush to reopen. To open back up and run at low occupancy wouldn’t make a lot of sense,” he commented.
Matfess said he didn’t want to share the total financial cost of the repairs. He said none of the money, however, has come from insurance money or financial assistance from the county or city.
“We’re self-funding this. It came from our operations, we had to pay it out ourselves. We’re still in negotiations with the insurance company, that’s slowed us down quite a bit. There have been no public funds,” said Matfess.
Matt Boswell, chief building inspector for the City of New Bern, confirmed that work on the hotel is “in the home stretch.” Boswell said one of the biggest projects to be completed is the installation of new elevators.
“Really the inside looks like a finished product, all new carpet and wall coverings, everything’s clean and ready to go,” said Boswell. “They’re replacing both elevators. The kitchen is kind of lagging behind a little bit and I think they’re working with the Craven County Health Department on getting that up to snuff.”
Boswell said contractors are also planning to seal and restripe the hotel’s parking lot and do some additional landscaping.
“But really on our end the only big thing holding us up are the new elevators that are going in,” said Boswell. “They’ll have to be inspected and certified by the Department of Labor, but other than that all permits are good with the City.”