CHICAGO—Two heads are better than one. And, sometimes, several dozen heads work best.
That was the idea behind Project Ignite, the internal name given to a recent contest at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile here. Eight teams, composed of the hotel’s managers, researched, developed and presented return-on-investment business cases to the hotel’s executive team.
“As an executive leadership team at the hotel, general manager on down, we decided to get some added hotel engagement with the diverse ranks of our management team within the property,” said Adam Korchek, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, ticking off the parameters of the contest. “We said that we’re going to invest $10,000 into a hotel-based project that affects one of three things: direct ROI, so added revenue for the property; influencing guest service; or anything that would have community benefit as well.
“Really, those were the three mantras that we gave people, and then they were broken into teams and had to do research, formulate an idea, develop a strategic plan and business case and present that back to the executive team. Based on a couple of key factors—ease of implementation, if it had a major ROI or guest experience factor, their ability to perform the business case and ultimately present it, we chose a winner,” Korchek said.
Many of the ideas were based around food & beverage solutions: a pop-up taco window, serving the foot traffic the hotel sees thanks to its location right off Michigan Ave.; a speakeasy concept—a limited-hours cocktail bar down in the bowels of the hotel; a champagne bar in the lobby to replace a gift-shop space; a casual, rooftop beer garden; and the addition of a smoothie component to the hotel’s quick-service F&B outlet. Another team suggested a bike excursion program so that guests could check out the bikes and get around the city.
“There was a lot of great ideation,” Korchek said. “But out of those eight projects, the winner ended up being the solar panel project, which now is in place on top of our roof as of October 25.”
The panels, provided by Chicago-based Earth Wind and Solar Energy, are located on the hotel’s ninth floor rooftop, positioned on the southeast corner above Michigan Ave., among the hotel’s beehives and rooftop garden. The 12, 320W solar panels will conserve 5,719 kWh per year, according to the state of Illinois’ formula guideline. This is enough to power the lighting in the hotel’s redesigned, 9,000-sq.-ft. fitness center or the lighting in 50 guestrooms for a year.
Korchek noted that there were several reasons why this concept won. “While the ROI in the short term isn’t a huge uptick, long term, there were benefits,” he said. “This was a plug-and-play solution that’s very expandable. The project started at $10,000, and we ended up automatically doubling that to $20,000 to get the amount of panels we had, but with our roof, we can continue to expand it.”
Furthermore, the 1,200-room convention hotel has a huge meetings and conventions business. And green meetings are certainly a piece of that pie. “With some of the other things we’ve implemented recently, like composting, this fell in line with that piece of it. While the short-term ROI wasn’t there strictly from the direct investment of the 12 panels, we did feel there was an upside for a green-conscious organization being in tune with some of our values as a hotel, and if we had an opportunity to win an added piece of business or two because of that project, we felt that would have ROI, so that came into the decision making,” Korchek said. “And, at the end of the day, it’s just the right thing to do community-wise. That’s the third piece of it—to give benefit to our local building, ownership, Marriott International, which falls in line with the company’s larger green initiatives, and then our local footprint.”
Ty Sanders, director of engineering for the hotel, added that there were additional carbon offsets from the state that helped with the ROI. “There’s a $60 per credit state of Illinois carbon offset that we received. We get about eight credits per month,” he said.
The installation process was quick and easy, according to Sanders. “It took two days to install the 12 panels. They literally carried them to the roof, set up the array in a grid pattern, interconnected them with the cables that link the panels together, ran an electrical circuit from the panels and tied it in through a device that converts the solar energy into electricity and connects it right into our power distribution for our hotel,” he said.
The rooftop location was selected for structural and wind loads, sunlight optimization and for the possibility for future expansion. “We definitely had to choose the best location on our roof based upon the sun load at the different times of year,” Sanders said. “That’s why we put it on the southeast corner of the roof.”
Korchek added that there’s another benefit—the newly renovated fitness center has floor-to-ceiling windows, which give guests views of the rooftop space. “While the rage right now is for hotels to add bars or a lounge to a rooftop, this space sits on our ninth floor roof and houses a seasonal vegetable and herb garden, four beehives with 500 Italian striped bees seasonally, and then this array of solar panels,” he said, noting that, coupled with the refreshed gym, “it’s a great health zone up there.
“It creates a nice urban oasis—a wellness, health, farm-to-table, green experience. It’s a nice array,” he concluded. HB