New Sanno Hotel getting four-star face lift
August 15, 2004
TOKYO — Diners relocated to the bar and shoppers in the upstairs Navy Exchange might notice unusual banging nearby, but the New Sanno Hotel is on its way to a new and improved look.
The Navy-contracted luxury hotel designed to give servicemembers and Defense Department personnel a low-cost place to stay in downtown Tokyo is undergoing a $10 million renovation through next year.
For the 53,000 visitors who come to the hotel each year, the change will mean a grander entrance, renovated restaurants and a new coffee shop serving fresh-baked pastries.
“The décor was outdated,” said Charles Cavill, director of the New Sanno. “It was time to modernize the hotel.”
Public areas on the first and second floors, including the lobby, restaurants and staircases, will be renovated in a federalist style. Federalist décor uses stone, marble, wood and stained glass — materials that last and don’t show wear, unlike carpet and painted walls.
“We’re going to incorporate that throughout the hotel,” Cavill said. “It’s very durable.”
The goal is turning the popular hotel from outdated to four-star. The hotel gets a face lift every few years but this is the largest renovation so far, Cavill said.
“About every two years we attack a new project here,” Cavill said. “This is the most ambitious and expensive.”
Some of the notable changes include the new coffee shop, shifting the front desk check-in, moving the Japanese restaurant Kikuyu to the second floor and making the bar brighter and more attractive.
However, the number and size of the rooms won’t change. The building’s small footprint and Japanese laws concerning construction prevent hotel officials from adding new floors or wings on the original structure. They can’t reconfigure to add rooms, so the hotel will remain full almost year-round.
“The problem is our occupancy is so high,” Cavill said. The hotel maintains a 98 percent occupancy rate, he said.
For the renovation, designers took advantage of unused space to raise the ceilings several feet. Each area will have elaborate ceiling designs and will be brighter with wood-paneled walls, stained glass and modern lighting.
The new lobby will have marble floors and a fireplace where the current front desk sits. The front desk moves to the left of the lobby so guests can register in a less-crowded area.
The jewelry counter that once sat in the lobby is moving upstairs to the Navy Exchange, to give shoppers a more private, comfortable place to browse, Cavill said.
Downstairs, the Emporium Restaurant will remain in the same location with a complete update.
The teppanyaki restaurant Kikuyu will move upstairs to a much larger open space, with a waterfall and floating flowers. The menu will add Kobe beef, sashimi and kaiseki (multicourse) dinners.
The entrance will be where the Community Bank currently is situated.
The bank will be relocated to the left of its present spot. It will receive a face lift as well, with woodwork and the look of a bank rather than a storefront, Cavill said.
Where Kikuyu had been, next to the Emporium on the first floor, hotel officials will create a new coffee shop called the Sunshine Café, which will sell Starbucks coffee and fresh-baked pastries.
Wellington, the fine dining restaurant, will have a new private dining area able to seat 10 diners. The main restaurant will have curtained booths for privacy and more comfortable seating.
Cavill said most of the restaurant and lobby changes will be completed this year.
Over the winter, builders will begin renovating the front exterior, adding pavers, a fountain and a portico large enough to shield five cars from the elements.
“The front entrance had no eye appeal,” Cavill said. “We wanted to brighten that up.”
The final phase, next year, will include upgrades to the game room and Embarcadero Lounge, now a dim, Las Vegas-esque lounge.
Cavill said the game room and bar will be swapped so the entrance will lead into a comfortable, tasteful and well-lit lounge. A dance floor with DJ booth and the game room will be situated to the back.
“It’s going to be a very quiet, adult place to have a drink,” Cavill said.
The entire project, estimated at nearly $10 million, is expected to be finished next fall. It’s funded by hotel profits, Cavill said.
The renovation will not lead to a rate increase, he added.
The hotel underwent a $5 million renovation three years ago to add an indoor pool, fitness center and locker rooms. Hotel profits also funded that renovation, Cavill said.
The next improvement, in a few years, could be the ballroom.
Cavill said changes will happen gradually. The new bank is to open Tuesday, followed by the jewelry counter in the Navy Exchange in September.
The lobby and restaurants are to be unveiled in November.
The New Sanno was built by the Japanese government for U.S. forces in 1983, replacing a hotel in nearby Akasaka.
Japan built the new hotel with the same number of rooms and parking spaces as the old; both now are in high demand, Cavill said.
The renovation has been planned for several years. The result, Cavil said, is “designed to wow.”
“That’s the effect I had intended,” he said. “It’s going to be much, much brighter.”