Spokane Journal of Business

Mirabeau Park Hotel plots course to rise above pandemic

Valley venue shifts services while holding on to core staff

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The Mirabeau Park Hotel & Convention Center was on track for one of its most successful years ever when the hospitality industry was derailed by a worldwide pandemic.

“We had more business on the books than we’d had in 15 years,” says Andy Rooney, Mirabeau Park general manager. “Then things changed drastically. We were all kind of surprised, not really understanding what was happening.”

Since last March, Rooney and his team have put on their collective brave face despite seeing the staff roster dwindle from nearly 150 in December 2019 to a core team of around 30 last spring. Rooney says some employees moved out of the area to find other jobs, and others fled the hospitality field entirely. The staff count has now edged upward to around 60.

“You’re responsible,” Rooney says. “People look up to you to make it happen. It’s been tough.”

Owned by Spokane Hospitality LLC, Mirabeau (pronounced “meer-uh-bo”) Park bills itself as “the only full-service hotel in Spokane Valley,” boasting 235 guest rooms, a full-service restaurant, and more than 17,000 square feet of meeting space. The facility is located at 1100 N. Sullivan, just south of the Interstate 90-Sullivan Road interchange.

Spokane Hospitality owner Lee Cameron says revenue has dipped 50% over the past year.

“That’s with doing everything in our power to bring in every dime we can,” Cameron says.

He says the company obtained some funding through the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program.

The FederalPay.org website shows Spokane Hospitality received $928,800 through Banner Bank and retained more than 30 jobs under the federal forgivable-loan program.

“It helped a great deal,” he says. “At least we were able to manage our losses.”

The company hasn’t heard back on a request for second-round funding.

The pivoting of Mirabeau Park’s business model has included a ramp-up of social media, increased signage, and a takeout menu at the Max at Mirabeau, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Attendees at a virtual networking event hosted by the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce earlier this month were led on a winding tour of the facility by Troy DeLatte, Mirabeau Park’s revenue, marketing, and administration manager.

Rooney, who has a background as an executive chef, says popular fare like bison meatloaf, barbecue ribs, and the wedge salad topped with smoky bleu cheese dressing have continued to define the Max despite dining restrictions in place since COVID-19.

“We had to change the concept,” Rooney says. “You go from a destination restaurant offering an experience to rebranding yourself and serving the same quality food (for take-out).”

Over the past year, the Max has offered meals to go, as well as special packages for Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl. With the recent announcement of Phase 2 being adopted in Spokane County, guest occupancy at the Max can open up to 25% of full occupancy. Full capacity at the restaurant is 350.

“I see some things turning around,” Rooney says.

For him and his team, one of the primary challenges has been the perception of some customers accustomed to the pre-pandemic experience at Mirabeau Park.

“On the outside, things look normal,” he says. “But they don’t see how it’s affected us internally, how staff has been cut. So, for instance, they may not get their food quite as fast as usual but we’re doing the best we can with the staff we have. Some people don’t get that.”

Cameron says the ownership group has made a steady stream of improvements on the 5-acre campus since 2004, spending approximately $1 million a year on upgrades. The overhaul of rooms wrapped up in 2017 and included new plumbing, electrical and lighting systems, beds, custom furniture, carpet, wall coverings, and flat-screen TVs. The parking lot and landscaping have received more recent facelifts.

“We’ve almost completely renovated the hotel inside and out,” Cameron says. 

The former steakhouse and lounge were converted to a larger restaurant by removing walls and reconfiguring the space, and a coffee shop was transformed into private dining rooms.

“We’ve invested a lot of money, and most of it has been through companies in the Valley and Spokane County,” Cameron says.

Over the last year, Mirabeau Park also has invested significantly in extensive pandemic-related safety measures, he says. Face masks have been part of employee attire since the start, while a continuing priority is placed on thorough cleaning and airing out of rooms.

“Everybody was totally on board with fulfilling all the enhanced guidelines,” Cameron says. “We were already exceeding cleaning, sanitizing and ventilation guidelines in place before. This just heightened our awareness of what we needed to do. Everybody here is on board to reduce the number of COVID instances.”

Cameron added that Mirabeau Park has offered “very attractive rates” for those who need to be isolated during the pandemic, such as front-line workers, caregivers, and residents at high-risk.

Event traffic typically comprises around 40% of Mirabeau Park’s annual revenue. That business was ostensibly wiped out in 2020 with traditional draws like Hoopfest, Bloomsday, and others erased from the calendar, not to mention the usual parade of conventions, reunions, weddings, and anniversary celebrations.

Cameron says it will be a highly competitive environment for hospitality businesses to attract customers and events coming out of the pandemic.

“We don’t expect customers to come roaring back,” he says. “It’s going to be a slow process.”

Meantime, the company’s focus on retaining the core staff has helped sustain morale through a turbulent year.

“We’ve had a really loyal team established here, a lot of long-term members,” Cameron says.

Adds Rooney, “We’ve all worked together to make it happen. We couldn’t keep the doors open without those key individuals.”

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