Cedar City shows ‘Hotel Impossible’ what community is all about; sneak peek

"Hotel Impossible" host Anthony Melchiorri briefs a group of volunteers who are eager to help renovate the Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, March 2015 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News

CEDAR CITY — The people of Cedar City showed TV series Host Anthony Melchiorri of “Hotel Impossible” that big things are possible when a community comes together. The fruit of their combined efforts to renovate the Stratford Court Hotel in historic downtown Cedar City in March will be revealed to the show’s millions of viewers Tuesday night when the Travel Channel airs its fourth episode of Season 6.

For those in the Cedar City area who may not get the Travel Channel at home, Cedar City residents and guests can attend a live public viewing that evening at the Cedar Historic Downtown Theatre, 33 N. Main St. at 7 p.m., with seating beginning at 6:45 p.m.

“Let’s show the nation how incredible cedar city s (sic) people are,” Kourtney Jolley wrote in a March 26 email calling volunteers to action. It was one of several urging people to come out for the “Hotel Impossible” reality TV show project in their hometown. 

Turnout they did and generously. Of all the show’s destinations he has visited, Melchiorri said Cedar City was the most abundantly giving community he’s ever worked with. Describing them, he said:

When you’re on an airplane they say, ‘put your mask on yourself before you put it on your child,’ right? So, I think, as a society, as human beings on this earth, our instincts are to take care of ourselves, you know; but what I found in Cedar City, honestly, they put their mask on somebody else first. I mean, it’s kind of crazy … it’s something I haven’t seen before.

Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, circa March 2015 | Photo courtesy of Kourtney Jolley via Holly Coombs, St. George News
Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, circa March 2015 | Photo courtesy of Kourtney Jolley via Holly Coombs, St. George News

The Stratford Court Hotel

Stratford Court Hotel Owners Steve and Gena Nelson purchased the hotel in July 2014. They had only owned the hotel for about six months, they said, when they got a call from the producers of the popular TV series asking if they would be interested in working with the show.

The couple had acquired the Stratford Court Hotel as part of an overall purchase that included the entire southwest corner of Center Street and Main Street. They had also acquired the El Rey Inn, one of the original Best Western Hotels from the ’40s.

“I have a dream of doing a redevelopment project downtown,” Steve Nelson said. “And it was more of a development purchase than a hotel purchase; and then we have learned about hotels because of that.”

Without available capital to begin redevelopment in the near future, the Nelsons said, becoming hoteliers was inevitable.

What was unexpected, however, Gena Nelson said, was exactly how much work would go into their new pet project.

Host Anthony Melchiorri walks and talks with Steve and Gina Nelson, owners of the Stratford Court Hotel, to be featured in September 2015 on Travel Channel's "Hotel Impossible." Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News
Host Anthony Melchiorri walks and talks with Steve and Gina Nelson, owners of the Stratford Court Hotel, to be featured in September 2015 on Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible.” Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News

“(It was) a wake-up call,” she said, “like a shock, … how much time and work it takes because a hotel is a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week business, and you really never get a day off.”

The Nelsons envisioned more of a management role running the hotels but found themselves much more involved in every aspect of the hotels’ day-to-day operations.

When “Hotel Impossible” was finally filmed in March, the Nelsons had only owned Stratford Court for nine months. The Stratford building was still in a bit of disrepair from previous owners, Stratford Court and El Rey Manager Enoch Seegmiller said. There was extensive remodeling needed that hadn’t begun yet because they had just wrapped up an 18-month remodel of the El Rey Inn.

“Hotel Impossible”

Show Host Melchiorri assesses hotels not living up to their potential or struggling to survive and then works closely with owners and staff to determine operations problems.

Travel Channel's "Hotel Impossible" host Anthony Melchiorri switches gears from hotel fixer to Shakespeare play actor, getting into character to perform a scene at the Utah Shakespeare Festival near the Stratford Court Hotel, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News
Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” host Anthony Melchiorri switches gears from hotel fixer to Shakespeare play actor, getting into character to perform a scene at the Utah Shakespeare Festival near the Stratford Court Hotel, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News

He served as director of front office operations at The Plaza Hotel in New York in the early years of his career and has, according to a press release issued by Travel Channel, repositioned some of the finest properties in the United States. In addition to hosting other Travel Channel programs, Melchiorri’s company Argeo Hospitality specializes in revenue management and provides consultation on hotel projects for private owners and investors.

He can often come across as abrasive and he knows it, Melchiorri said, but his intention is not to frustrate and upset but rather to point out inconsistencies and help the hoteliers improve so they can be successful. In the short amount of time he has with them, he said, the best way to do that is to be brutally honest.

“Listen, at the end of the day, I have a job to do,” Melchiorri said. “My job is to be honest, to be respectful to my industry … and to understand that when people ask me to come in, they’re desperate.”

The Stratford Court Hotel was not in a state of desperation when the network approached them, Steve Nelson said, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the project to happen and they were excited about the opportunity.

Travel Channel's "Hotel Impossible" host Anthony Melchiorri meets with employees of the Stratford Court Hotel’s housekeeping department, to get more insight into the hotel’s operations, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News
Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” host Anthony Melchiorri meets with employees of the Stratford Court Hotel’s housekeeping department, to get more insight into the hotel’s operations, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News

The Nelsons are a little concerned about how the show will represent their hardworking employees when it airs, they said, but the experience was well worth it in the end.

Seegmiller said that although he has no clue what the final product will be when the show airs, he has watched it enough times to know that there is always one person who bears the brunt of the criticism — and in this episode, he said, he believes it will be him.

“I’m OK with it,” he said. “The host of the show – his opinion is that if he has to come to a hotel to help out then the manager is not doing his job.”

Gena Nelson said Melchiorri knows nothing about the hotel when he arrives on scene, so all of his reactions are genuine and honest reflections of what he sees; but the producers spin the show certain ways, she said, and so there is no way of knowing what the final outcome will look like.

In the light of their family history – both are descendants of Cedar City settlers – and the community outpouring, the Nelsons said, they believe the Cedar City episode will weigh heavily in the direction of family and community.

It takes a community

The Stratford Court “Hotel Impossible” project began March 25 and continued for only four days, Schmidt Construction owner Phil Schmidt said. It took eight to 15 construction workers on-site filming 20 hours daily – from 7 a.m. one day to 3 a.m. the next day – to complete the projects asked of them.

“There is a major renovation that took place here,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt Construction did the contract work on the renovation, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, March ‎28, ‎2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Schmidt Construction did the contract work on the renovation, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, March ‎28, ‎2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

One challenge came when the Sheetrock guy he had lined up to do plasterboard work dropped out at the last minute because of a big project he was called out on, the contractor said. As it turned out, men from his own crew who had Sheetrock experience stepped up and got the job done.

The donations and the help that turned out to assist in the project during the short, four-day transformation was overwhelming, he said.

“I don’t know the total hours,” Schmidt said, “but I’ll bet you there’s over 2,000 hours of service or more, easy, and that’s incredible.”

The Cedar City Area Chamber of Commerce and Iron County Homebuilders Association played active and supporting roles throughout the project, “Hotel Impossible” designer Anne Rue said, bringing in volunteers and businesses to donate to the cause.

The owners were kept in the dark about the multitude of donations that came in to support the hotel’s transition — from in-kind donations to donations of time and hard work, the community stepped up with profound contributions.

After the show, the Cedar City Area Chamber of Commerce gave the Nelsons a list of local businesses that had contributed materials, Gena Nelson said. There were over 100 stores on the paper.

It was overwhelming, she said.

L-R: Travel Channel's "Hotel Impossible" designer Anne Rue, Stratford Court Hotel General Manager Enoch Seegmiller, owners Steve and Gina Nelson, and others look at renovations made during the show's production. Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News
L-R: Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” designer Anne Rue, Stratford Court Hotel General Manager Enoch Seegmiller, owners Steve and Gina Nelson, and others look at renovations made during the show’s production. Cedar City, Utah, March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Travel Channel, St. George News

Improvements made and lessons learned

In addition to the major renovation done to the Stratford Court Hotel, the hundreds of volunteers who participated allowed the show to redo 17 guest rooms, Gena Nelson said, besides the specially designed model room created by Rue.

Among the many improvements made, Gena Nelson said, the landscaping was the one that she hoped for and enjoys the most.

Melchiorri taught them how to create a one-of-a-kind experience for their guests, Gena Nelson said. It’s the little touches that count sometimes, she said. For example, the Stratford now gives each guest a bag of old-fashioned candy as a “thank you” for their stay.

The new decor plays off the Utah Shakespeare Festival in subtle ways, Gena Nelson said, connecting the hotel to the city’s annual festival that brings over 150,000 visitors to the area every year.

In fact, Travel Channel has titled the episode “To Be or Not to Be.”

The newly renovated lobby complete with costumes on loan from the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, September 14, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
The newly renovated lobby complete with costumes on loan from the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Stratford Court Hotel, Cedar City, Utah, September 14, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The splashes of Shakespeare-themed decor were well executed, Seegmiller said. Many of the visitors who come to “Festival City,” as Cedar City is called, may not be in town to attend the Utah Shakespeare Festival but it is important to consider the experience of potential guests.

“We want people to know about Shakespeare,” Seegmiller said. “But we don’t want them to be overrun with Shakespeare … if they know there’s this world-class event that happens during the summer, chances are they may come back.”

No matter what happens on the show when it airs Tuesday night, the Nelsons said, they want their employees and community to know they are grateful for all of their hard work.

When millions of viewers watch the program, Steve Nelson said, their hope is those viewers will fall in love with the community spirit that thrives in Cedar City and decide to come for a visit.

If he were to walk away from this experience with only one message, Steve Nelson said, it would be that people are what matters.

“It’s definitely that feeling of a community in caring,” he said. “That was the best learning lesson for me.”

Broadcast, viewing 

The premiere broadcast, airing with the title “To Be or Not to Be” will air Tuesday at 9 p.m., 7 p.m. MDT, and again at 10 p.m. MDT.

Cedar City residents and guests can attend a live public viewing that evening at the Cedar Historic Downtown Theatre, 33 N. Main St. at 7 p.m., with seating beginning at 6:45 p.m.

See additional airing schedule on Hotel Impossible’s To Be or Not to Be Web page; note go to full TV schedule to select your time zone.

UPDATED Sept. 21, 1:20 p.m. to include additional viewing opportunities.

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