With all of the many improvements that the Antlers has made over the years, we know that our real Achilles’ Heel is the south (original) elevator. Clearly it does not begin to match the Platinum quality that we have worked so hard to achieve in the condominiums. Although we have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to make that elevator acceptable, the handwriting is on the wall that it just needs to be completely replaced.
A little historical perspective …
Only a few guests and owners will remember that the original elevator had just three landings to service our seven story building! It stopped on 2½, 4½ & 6½. That was it. Everywhere you got out of the elevator, you had to go up or down a half flight of stairs to get to any condominium. Hard to believe, I know. People in the first floor units had to hike a half flight up to the lower parking level and three half-flights up to the lobby. It’s hard to comprehend the hassle of moving everything … from luggage to furniture. We didn’t have any luggage carts, instead using an appliance dolly with a big drop down tongue. Oddly, back in the day, our guests and owners didn’t seem to mind when we handed them that thing. I can only imagine what people would think if that happened today. Oh my goodness!
Our housekeepers were practically body builders from having to literally carry their vacuum cleaners and all their cleaning supplies up and down stairs all day long. To go to the swimming pool from the 6th floor, you had to walk up a half flight of stairs to catch the elevator, ride down to the lobby level and then walk down another flight and a half to the first floor. The return trip, dripping wet in the dead of winter, would be beyond intolerable by today’s standards.
I remember working at the front desk in the early 80’s and dreading the late night call from a guest asking for a rollaway. I would have to manhandle it alone, up and down those same stairs. In every respect the inconvenience was unbelievable and looking back, it’s amazing that our owners and guests tolerated it for twenty years.
My first significant capital project as General Manager was in 1994 when we finally figured out that we could build glass-enclosed landings on the west side of the shaft (which was previously outdoor, open airspace). That allowed the elevator to have doors front and back, stopping on every floor. Oh, the convenience!
Unfortunately, the first and second floor openings were constrained by a massive concrete retaining wall, which is why those two doors are much narrower than all the other floors and don’t come close to meeting the building codes of 2017. That retaining wall remains one of our physical constraints today.
The original elevator was a hydraulic piston elevator, more typically suited for a two, or at most, three story building. The original four story run (from the lobby level at floor 2½ up to 6½) was too much for a single piston, so it had a two-stage “jack”. Even that was pushing the limits and maintenance on it was a major hassle from day one.
When we added the extra landings in 1994, the distance from the first floor to the seventh was far too great for any two stage piston, and the accompanying underground silo was nowhere near deep enough, so we had to import a three stage jack from Germany. I was told that it was the only one in America at the time. There’s a reason for that … the third stage had to be of such small diameter (to fit inside stages one and two), that when it was fully extended it had all the stability of a spaghetti noodle. Maintenance challenges continued, to say the least.
Our other intrinsic problem is that the elevator and associated equipment room are basically outdoor, untempered spaces. That meant the hydraulic fluid would get way too cold in the winter and because of the added stress of the long rise, it would get way too hot in the summer. As a result, sometimes the elevator just wouldn’t run at all. We added hydraulic fluid heaters early on, and only recently added a loop to run the fluid out into the garage to help cool it in the summer. Both solutions helped, but were compromises at best.
Since day one, both before and after the 1994 redesign, our elevator has been our weakest link and the source of innumerable guest complaints. The maintenance on it has continued to get more and more challenging and expensive. We are now in a situation where people have actually been stuck in the elevator. It has happened several times in the past few years and in the hospitality business, that is simply the textbook definition of “UNACCEPTABLE”. Although we’ve taken measures to make sure THAT doesn’t happen again, the elevator is still way too slow, and we just can’t continue to tolerate the inconvenience of those narrow door openings on the first two floors. After repeated efforts to improve or at least “band-aid” that thing, we just have to replace it!
With all that as background, the question today is, “Why can’t we just rebuild it in the current location with a modern, tension (cable) elevator, like every other tall building in the world?” The answer lies in a variety of physical constraints, combined with today’s building codes. The existing shaft is simply too small to accommodate both the elevator cab and the cables that have to run between the cab and the shaft wall. Enlarging that shaft is truly the only answer. You would think that could be done for less than the $1.7 million dollar cost that it will take to relocate a new elevator elsewhere. Sadly, you’d be wrong.
For starters, the main electrical service for a good part of the building runs adjacent to that shaft. Relocating it would be extremely difficult and expensive, although perhaps doable. The aforementioned retaining wall, will significantly hamper any redesign of the shaft until the building is completely torn down (let’s not do that). Even if we could get past those two hurdles, a major redesign would trigger building code access issues that include the space between the garage and the elevator, as well as the main stairway. Because of the structural nature of their concrete construction, redesigning and rebuilding those two areas quickly adds up to several million dollars alone … forget about the elevator itself. Lastly, any excavation necessary for the expansion of the current shaft would likely disturb the foundation of the original building. The risk factor on that is so high, that any cost estimate would have to include an enormous contingency to cover that worst case scenario. It might be $4 million on the low end (just for the elevator) … but several times that amount on the high end, due to that risk exposure.
Bottom line, while it would seem logical to keep the elevator in the current location, and as much as we’d like to, it’s just not feasible. Fortunately, local architect Henry Pratt has helped us to identify a new, alternative location in the southeast corner of the courtyard. It’s next to the area that we currently use as bicycle storage in the summer. We’ll still have to cut through the post tension slabs that comprise the garage and parking deck. That isn’t cheap or easy, but at least it’s viable, and with a lot less risk. With that new location comes the opportunity to make some much needed improvements to the lobby, front desk, reception area and associated office spaces. If we’re going to be considered a Platinum rated property, those spaces need to be upgraded to that level of quality, just as the condominiums have been.
Fortunately, at our recent annual owners meeting, there was good consensus to do what needs to be done, even if it is quite expensive. We’re lucky that our ownership understands and appreciates the need to provide a great product for our guests … throughout the building. As we work through this process with the Antlers ownership, our hope is to break ground in the spring of 2019 and be operational by that ski season. Stay tuned!