Home News and Features After Millions in Repairs, Capitol Plaza to Open in April

After Millions in Repairs, Capitol Plaza to Open in April

Anywhere from 25- 40 construction workers have been on site at Capitol Plaza making the final repairs to prepare for an April 1 opening date, after the hotel was severely damaged from the July 2023 flood. Photo by John Lazenby.
The cosmos has aligned for Capitol Plaza Hotel’s spring opening. Eight months after the July 2023 flood, and $4.5 million in repairs later, Montpelier’s Capitol Plaza Hotel on State Street will open in April. The hotel is already booked solid for April 7-9, when Montpelier falls in the path of totality for a solar eclipse on April 8. The hotel’s in-house restaurant, J. Morgan’s Steakhouse, will reopen in May.

Three days before the flood, the hotel changed hands from the Bashara family to the Hilton and became part of its “Tapestry Collection.” On that day — July 7, 2023 — Steve Merrill came to town. Merrill is the Vice President of Operations at Jamsan Hotel Management, which now operates Capitol Plaza among dozens of other hotels throughout New England. 

The hotel’s revival comes months after most downtown Montpelier businesses reopened their doors post-flood. Capitol Plaza’s repairs took a long time in large part because of the size of the building, which fills up about one city block. Another factor is the sheer volume of materials needed, and the scarcity of products like heating systems, electrical circuits and transformers while everyone else needed replacements, too. Along with that, Merrill said once the flood repairs started, his crew kept finding other things to fix inside walls, ceilings and floors. 

The combination of massive flood damage and accelerated upgrades to the building strung the construction project out for eight months, and counting. The place remains abuzz with 25-40 people working daily to ready it for the April opening.

Merrill said Hilton has spent more than $22 million on the hotel, in both purchase price, flood repairs, and upgrades intended to “get the building to the Hilton brand.” Since the flood, he said, over 10,000 hours of work have gone into fixing the building, from dredging out the giant basement and landfilling 30 years of stored stuff, to replacing all its systems. That doesn’t include $4.5 million in lost revenues from canceled reservations. 

“I was surprised that [Hilton] ended up keeping the hotel, in all honesty,” Merrill said.

Rick Silva builds stairs from the kitchen to the dining room at J. Morgan Steakhouse, Capitol Plaza’s in-house restaurant, which is slated to reopen on April 1. Photo by John Lazenby.
The hotel should bring in about $6 million annually from reservations alone, Merrill said. But that’s not its only economic impact. A full hotel benefits other downtown businesses, said Katie Trautz, executive director of Montpelier Alive, especially after a significant dip in foot traffic after the flood, followed up by a mediocre skiing season.

“I believe once we have more visitors here staying more than just for the day, we’ll have more people eating out at night, more people needing to buy food for lunch, more foot traffic in our small shops,” Trautz said. “… if the hotel were nearly full it would be very significant for our downtown.”

The Eve of the Flood

On the eve of the flood, during the heavy rain, Capitol Plaza had been fully booked. Some people were able to leave “organically,” Merrill said; they left early or got rides to somewhere out of the flood zone. But nearly 80 people stayed, a combination of guests, staff, and locals who had nowhere else to go. 

“We could’ve shut off reservations,” Merrill said. “We didn’t. We were not able to recoup any revenues, and we knew that that was going to happen because all the systems went down. We (booked) rooms through paper and pen because we knew they needed a place to stay.”

That night, before flood waters filled the lobby, Merrill — a chef “in a former life” — cooked spaghetti and meatballs for everyone and served it in the ballroom. He had gas for the stove, but no electricity. A generator powered emergency lighting while he cooked.

“There was no place open to eat, so we had to figure out a way.” he said. 

The next day, rescue boats shuttled some of the guests out. At that point, the lobby had flooded and guests and staff were officially stranded on the upper floors. 

A construction crew was already on site — prepared to make what they then thought would be some minor upgrades to the otherwise turnkey operation. The crew rigged a box with pulleys for getting supplies up to guests. One of Jamsan’s “sister properties,” a Marriott Delta Hotel in Burlington, brought over snacks and water. They were able to fill the box and Merrill’s crew hoisted it up to the second floor where he set up a space in the administrative offices for guests to pick up their meals.

The Extent of the Damage

At upwards of 20,000 square feet, with a maze of corridors and small rooms, Capitol Plaza’s basement housed 14 electrical transformers, the boiler, internet network systems, all the spare tables and linens, and hundreds of parts for one of its popular quirks: the toy train that used to chug around the dining room at J. Morgan. (The train will be back, Merrill said, but it won’t be running for a while.)

Welder Andrzej Galinski, of American Architecture Steel in Torrington, Conn., has been living at the Capitol Plaza Hotel while making repairs in preparation for the hotel’s reopening in April. Photo by John Lazenby.
Dozens of construction workers have been on-site at any given time for the entire eight months since the flood, Merrill said, many of them living in the hotel rooms. Of those, 14 have been dedicated to replacing the transformers, getting them out of flood range, and fixing the entire electrical system, said Frank LeValliere, of LaValliere Electric in New Hampshire, who is doing the job. LeValliere had been staying in one of the hotel rooms. He was ready to go home when he spoke to The Bridge in February, but the drive was long, so his trips home were few and far between.

Other major damage includes the elevator, which had to be replaced, Merrill said. Water damage on the first floor soaked through the walls and wicked up to the ceiling, he added, requiring total replacement. 

Yennifer Orozco makes the finishing touches on new walls at Capitol Plaza Hotel. Photo by John Lazenby.

2,000 Canceled Reservations

After the flood, Capitol Plaza staff went from 80 associates, Merrill said, to four. Thirty-two are returning for the reopening. The sales team went from two people to one person — sales manager Anna Bruce. Bruce can be found in her office on the second floor of the hotel, busy with the thousands of details of reopening, including replacing all the linens, tables, and chairs that were ruined in the flood.

But back in July, she had a tougher job. With a skeleton crew remaining on staff, everyone’s jobs changed, she said. One of her new duties included handling the 2,000 reservations that had to be canceled while the hotel had closed indefinitely.

With internet and landline phones down, she didn’t have the usual system to deal with cancellations, so she sent out an email blast, and then went about the tedious business of making 2,000 phone calls — on a cell phone — with a little help from one other employee. By the time she finished, the hotel’s network was running again, and now she had the equally daunting task of refunding all those cancellations.

“It’s been crazy,” Bruce said. “We do a weekly meeting, and I take the meeting minutes for it. I was reading them yesterday and I was like, it’s so wild for me to look back.” 

Bruce also noted the systems do-over that changed up time-consuming practices like bringing linens to the Launderama on Barre Street (and back) rather than washing them in-house. New on-site washers and dryers will make the task simpler and take up less staff time, she said 

“Moving forward, we’re in a much better place if something were to happen again,” Bruce said. 

Having the hotel open again “will feel like we’re turning a corner in terms of our downtown opening back up after the flood. The Capital Plaza is a really big business. I think it will feel like we turned a page,” Trautz said.

According to Merrill, Capitol Plaza is currently hiring for 30 positions, including servers, bartenders, dishwashers and cooks.

 Beer on tap at J.Morgans was put on hold during a complete renovation following the July 2023 flood. Photo by John Lazenby.