|The new Grill is part of added capacity that has led to 4,000 more covers in a seven-month period.|
A city club 30 floors up in a downtown high-rise works with its design team to find unique solutions to members’ requests for expanded F&B options.
When the members of the Charlotte (N.C.) City Club were surveyed at the start of this decade about changes they’d like to see at their club, their responses reflected the strong trend toward more casual food and beverage service that was then starting to take hold at all clubs and resorts.
But accommodating these members’ specific desires for a larger bar, grill room, updated kitchen, and more casual atmosphere overall would prove to be a little more challenging than at other properties. The club, which turned 60 this year, occupies the 31st and 32nd floors of a high-rise office building in downtown Charlotte. And its largest dining area, the Mecklenburg Room, was a two-story space with 25-foot ceilings.
The added challenges presented by the club’s physical location eventually led to some unique solutions. Perhaps most innovative was how a new Grill was created, by adding a new, semi-circular level in the middle third of the 2,500-sq. ft. Mecklen-burg Room. This increased overall ca-pacity (a major goal of the renovation) while creating a unique new dining setting.
Club: Charlotte City Club
“We basically took air space [within the two-story room] and created a new floor,” says John Scharer, the club’s General Manager. “I’m not aware of any club in the country that has created a floor within existing floors in this fashion.
“Overall, this involved quite a bit of engineering, because we were adding significant weight in the form of steel beams and concrete,” Scharer adds. “We felt that the building was originally designed so it could be done, but we had to get structural engineers to tell us that was the case.”
Having an innovative and determined project team led by Chambers, whose principals sketched the idea for the new level on a napkin during an early planning session, was also a key to meeting the challenges presented by the renovation. “The team [which included Jenkins Peer Architects, Rodgers Builders, and a blue-ribbon committee of past club presidents] worked very hard upfront to make sure the chemistry would be good,” says Bob Hickman, Chairman/CEO of Chambers.
That yielded a formula for instantly positive results, as soon as the new Grill and other refurbished areas reopened in September 2006. “Through July 2007, we served 4,000 more covers than in the same period in 2006,” Scharer reports. “Utilization is up and attrition is down; membership has increasd by 25 from the same time a year earlier.
“Overall interest by prospective members is also up, and we expect to have record initiation fees this year,” he adds. “We also expect net profit to grow by $75,000 to $100,000 this year, without any increase in dues other than our annual inflationary adjustment. This represents the best-case scenario for the over $3 million spent on the project; when we did due diligence, the most likely scenario was only to break even.”
Everyone On Board
One key to realizing this positive outcome was the team’s practice of continually updating and surveying membership as the project unfolded. Scharer says the club was fortunate, throughout the renovation period, to be able to maintain a financial position that allowed it to refrain from making special renovation assessments. But the possibility was still presented, to help determine whether members would be willing to shoulder added costs if needed. And the overall response indicated continued support, even if it meant a potential dues increase or assessment.
|The new level (pictured above) created a unique setting within the club’s main dining room.|
“We didn’t intend to do either, but we wanted confirmation that the membership was going to support this,” explains Scharer, who has been in private club management since 1983. “We didn’t want to build all of this if usage would remain the same or revenues would stagnate.”
The votes of confidence helped the project team push past the inevitable challenges and obstacles as the renovation proceeded. For example, when it became clear that the club would need to be shut down to complete the needed kitchen renovations, the knowledge that members had voiced such full support for the plan made it easier to avoid the temptation to try to stay open in some form, just to eke out a few extra F&B dollars.
“For all practical purposes, we demolished the kitchen, and then put it all back together in a 10-day timeframe,” Scharer reports. “To accomplish that, we had three crews working 24 hours a day.”
Members’ ongoing support also helped the team avoid cutting corners, or make hasty decisions, when problems arose with building materials or deliveries. For example, when it was discovered that the color of a cherry wood veneer wall covering imported from Japan for the Mecklenburg Room did not match the original sample, the project team tracked down a Washington state-based company that was able to apply a tint and darken the wall covering to the correct shade.
“Getting millwork produced out of select cherry for the new Grill—baseboards, walls, everything was cherry—also took an extra amount of time,” says Chambers’ Hickman. But here, too, the members’ support helped to assure the team that it should do everything right and with the highest quality—so that, as Hickman says, “members will notice the difference.” Other special materials used in the project included custom-made windows, Hawaiian green granite for countertops, slate, wool carpet and a leather Chesterfield sofa.
Even with these added touches and the extra challenges that had to be met, the club was able to meet budget for the project, Scharer reports, although the original cost was expanded because of some extra initiatives added along the way.
|The area for the new Grill and bar was glassed in to overlook the main dining area (see inset photo above).|
Unique materials aren’t the only reason the Charlotte City Club has a new look. Many of its existing rooms were also dramatically transformed through new functions and purposes.
For example, the new Grill now includes a library built at one end that features historical books, as well as current newspapers and periodicals for members to peruse. The Grill’s new buffet counter was created with built-in induction heaters, eliminating the need for chafing dishes. Other add-ons for the Grill included built-in large flat-panel TVs for the expanded bar area, and a display case to showcase club apparel.
|Dining capacity was increased on both levels of the two-story club|
In the Stonewall Jackson Room, one of the club’s meeting rooms, wood wine lockers were built into the wall, for members to store favorite bottles.
One of the greatest operational efficiencies added through the renovation can be found behind the scenes in the kitchen, where a dumbwaiter now transports food up one floor, into the service area that is adjacent to the new Grill.
The renovation also gave the club a much-needed expansion of its private-room space. One additional private room was created and all existing rooms are now larger in capacity. Only two rooms now seat fewer than 10; all others can seat between 20 and 30. “The redesign of the rooms has allowed us to increase capacity dramatically,” Scharer says.
Although this latest renovation wasn’t the first time the Charlotte City Club had refurbished its current location, which it has occupied since 1990, an impending lease renewal caused leadership to seriously consider its future plans before committing
|Wine lockers where members can store bottles were built into one of the club’s meeting rooms .|
this time around.
“Because our lease was expiring in 2010, we weren’t going to do anything until we determined it was right for our long-term future,” Scharer says. “We wanted to get members to buy in not just for a few years, but at least through a possible lease extension to 2020.”
Ongoing member surveys continue to provide that assurance. “So far, we’ve had great comments on the food and service, with the highest scores ever,” Scharer says.
The club is buoyed enough, in fact, that it now views the just-completed renovation as the first phase of a grander-scale initiative; upcoming projects would update the ballroom, staircase and club foyers, and upgrade all bathrooms.
“Many people have said the city club is a dying breed, but we’re an example of one that’s vibrant and growing,” Scharer says. “Charlotte is a growing business community, and I have a very supportive Board, management team and staff. Combine those ingredients, and you’ll always have a successful club.”