Orange County Register
BY Hannah Madans/Staff Writer 

A cool, fun place to hang out' is what Irvine Co.'s resort division is aiming for
as it transitions its former Hyatt.


At Hotel Irvine, the subtle smells of vanilla, jasmine and lily greet guests as they enter a sleek lobby reminiscent of posh hotels typically found in big cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The new "lifestyle hotel" hosted its soft opening Dec. 1 after shedding the Hyatt brand and switching management a year ago to Irvine Co.'s Resort Properties division.

Less than 3 miles from John Wayne Airport and tucked among towering office complexes along Jamboree Road, the hotel embraces a hipster vibe not commonly associated with Irvine's commuter hub and immaculate, suburban neighborhoods.

"We were looking for Hotel Irvine to have a modern, sophisticated design that is relevant and even cool," said Ralph Grippo, president of Irvine Co.'s resort division. "Since we are not a cookie-cutter hotel brand, we have the ability to design something that is unusual for Irvine and Orange County. We hope that people take notice of how unique it is."

The resort division, which has owned the 15-story property since 1986, also owns the The Resort at Pelican Hill and Island Hotel Newport Beach.

The former Hyatt has been scrubbed of its generic, chain aesthetic and remodeled from top to bottom. Its lobby, restaurants, bar and all 536 rooms were redesigned, mostly by Irvine Co.'s in-house team.

"It's not just a renovation. We like to think of it as a brand new hotel," Grippo said.


The hotel industry has grown 4.4 percent from 2009 to 2014 and is expected to continue to grow, according to an IBISWorld report.

Tourism in Orange County has also continued to thrive, with more than 44 million visitors here in 2013, compared with roughly 40 million in 2000, according to the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. Visitors spent more than $2.3 billion in 2013 on lodging.

To meet the demand, seven new hotels are being developed in the county, which will add 1,500 new guest rooms, the visitors bureau reported.

The push for more boutique-like accommodations is being driven by travelers who are seeking individual experiences, said Andy Brennan, an IBISWorld analyst.

"Over the last couple of decades, a rising number of travelers have grown tired of staying in cookie-cutter hotels geared toward a mass audience," Brennan said. "One of the major attractions for the guest is a unique, customized experience that cannot be found elsewhere; an ‘experience' that they can tell their friends about and share on social media."

Cities including Las Vegas and Los Angeles have long featured lifestyle hotels, such as the W Hollywood Hotel, which has an open design and amenities that both hotel guests and Hollywood residents frequent.

One way Hotel Irvine will cater to individuals is by using a texting service that allows guests to request things like towels without having to call the front desk. Bicycle rentals and pet-friendly rooms also are available.

"It appeals to a broad base of people. Local residents will want to come here too, to the marketplace, to get coffee, to the bar," Grippo said. "It's a local place that will come alive."


The hotel's remodel replaced the stock-in-trade Hyatt design with eye-popping color and sleek furniture, including sprawling, twisting orange couches, bright orange cushions and carpets that swirl in matching colors.

The restaurant, Eats Kitchen & Bar, has "twists on the classics," according to head chef Jason Montelibano. The menu includes $11 lamb gnocchi and $4 pork belly buns.

Brennan said hip bars and lounges are a growing trend in the hotel industry. Restaurants and bars provide 12.5 percent of revenue for some hotels, and many are now capitalizing on this, an IBISWorld report said.

The hotel has a ballroom and an outdoor area, both of which can host 1,000 people each.

The entire remodel was not completed in time for the soft opening but will be by January, said J.D. Shafer, the hotel's general manager, including a large pool and a backyard with a 6,000-square-foot pavilion. Once completed, the area will host events open to the public, including live music, movie nights, and food and wine festivals.

The hotel also built a 24-hour marketplace with a Starbucks stand and ready-made food such as sushi and salads. Guests can have anything from the marketplace delivered to their room.

Near the marketplace and other common areas is a large lounge with a nine-panel TV. The panels can be used to view multiple football games or can be combined to make presentations or watch a movie on the large screen.

More than 100 part-time employees were hired to work at the new food and beverage outlets in the hotel. New and former employees were retrained in operating a lifestyle hotel and giving guests a more personal experience. The hotel now has slightly under 350 employees and is still hiring.

The company would not disclose how much it spent on the remodel. Grippo said the resort division has seen double-digit growth in recent years.

"Hotels used to be a place you went to sleep. Now they're social centers, a cool, fun place to hang out," Grippo said.

Contact the writer: or Twitter: @HannahMadans