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New Management, New Look for Sheraton Universal Hotel

Barack Obama isn’t the only one delivering change. With a new general manager, a new management company and a $25 million dollar makeover, change has come to the Sheraton Universal in massive doses in recent months. Originally opened Feb. 14, 1969, it’s safe to say that the newly 40-year-old hotel isn’t the one from your childhood. “We needed a facelift pretty badly,” said Peter Walterspiel, the Sheraton’s GM since August when Destination Hotels & Resorts became managers of the hotel. “For 40 years, we’ve had guests coming back. They cannot believe the change. Now, it’s much more streamlined with a modern twist.” The revamped 451-room hotel has two bars, one which features more than 50 kinds of vodka; semi-private cabanas in the lobby called Club Level and Club Lounge; a 24-hour business center; and The Link Internet Lounge. Such upgrades have thrust the Sheraton Universal into the 21st century, Walterspiel feels. “Before it was very traditional but no more,” he said. “There were darker colors, not nearly as bright.” The bar in the lobby, for example, is illuminated by light-emitting diodes that change colors in a scheme based on the sun’s cycle. To take advantage of energy-efficiency incentives available to businesses, the Sheraton began using compact fluorescent lights, low flush toilets and other energy-saving equipment. A Camarillo designer, Beth Mondello, oversaw the renovation of the guest rooms, which feature art deco designs with brown, blue and ivory color palettes. The armoires in the rooms were scrapped because they had an old-fashioned feel, Walterspiel said. Also, the bathrooms have new stone floors and vanities. Curved rather than straight rods hold the shower curtains, allowing for more space. “The look of the hotel is breathtaking compared to what it used to be, and the rooms are amazing,” said Jessica Yasukochi, vice president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association in Sherman Oaks. In October, VICA held its Business Forecast Conference at the Sheraton Universal, and on June 18, it will have its Hall of Fame dinner there. “I think the big difference is in the lobby where they have the bar and all of the check-in tables,” she said. “It’s not like a counter. It’s individual tables. That makes (check-in) more personalized, and that would be the biggest standout to me.” Historic Ties Despite the extensive makeover management has given the Sheraton, the hotel hasn’t totally parted ways with tradition. Classic crystal chandeliers still hang from the ceilings of its meeting space area, of which the hotel has 30,000 square feet. Sheraton officials also take pride in the fact that legends from Ava Gardner to Telly Savalas to Sophia Loren have lodged at the hotel. Still, there are some touches from the past that Walterspiel could do without,the brass rails in the hotel’s elevators, for instance. They will soon be replaced with stainless steel. The lifts will also operate on new technology. There are a few other small renovations officials hope to complete, but when that will happen depends on how the economy performs. “We need to ride out this storm,” Walterspiel said. The Sheraton has not been spared from the effects of the recession. Business is about five percent off, and the hotel has implemented new strategies to generate more. “Our sales efforts have changed,” explained Walterspiel. In the past, “More often than not, business came to us. Now, we have to be much more proactive.” The Sheraton offers promotions such as the Ruby Anniversary Package, which includes a suite, three-course dinner for two with wine and dessert for $349 nightly. There’s also the Universal Studios Package, which includes room accommodations and two-day admission passes for a pair of adults to Universal Studios Hollywood starting at $259 nightly. Room rates at the Sheraton are typically more than $400 per night. “We work with packages,” Walterspiel said, “but we don’t necessarily want to discount everything we do.” In His Blood The fact that Walterspiel is a third-generation hotelier leaves little doubt that he knows the value of what a hotel has to offer. A German transplant who came to the U.S. in 1984, Walterspiel grew up in hotels. “I lived in hotels until I was 14. I lived in four different countries and two continents. I’ve always been exposed to the industry.” However, Walterspiel, now 48, had no inclination to pursue a career in the field. Instead, he taught ballroom dancing in Germany. Then an opportunity came his way to work for a hotel and he seized on it because he had grown tired of life as a dance instructor. As an hotelier, Walterspiel has had leadership roles at the St. Regis in Washington D.C., the Turnberry Isle Resort & Club in Florida, Hotel Nikko in San Francisco and two New York hotels,Le Parker Meridien and the hotel formerly known as the RIHGA Royal. He comes to the Sheraton Universal from Las Vegas, where he spent seven years serving as vice president of operation at hotels as famed as the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and Wynn Las Vegas. “It was a completely different world,” Walterspiel said of Vegas. Gambling adds an entirely new dimension to hotels, he feels. “In the normal hotel world, you can talk to more guests and staff members on a personal basis.” Walterspiel appreciates the Sheraton Universal because it’s much smaller than the grand hotels of Vegas. There, he literally had to walk miles to get to one part of a hotel to another. He also managed as many as 10,000 employees. In contrast, at the Sheraton, he manages a staff of 300. When Destination assumed management of the hotel in August, Walterspiel came on board along with six upper level managers. The GM is excited about being part of a new leadership body. “My team and I just have a fresh outlook,” he said.

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