MONROE, LA—Two Louisiana-based companies—InterMountain, located here, and Campo Architects, based in New Orleans—have formed a partnership that creates a one-stop shop of services for new and existing properties as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 crisis.
“Between our two companies, we really offer a comprehensive menu of services,” said Colby Weaver Walker, interior design and purchasing manager of InterMountain Renovation Consultants (IRC), one of the companies under the InterMountain umbrella. “We have everything from architecture to interior design, procurement, hotel management and project management. We do feasibility analysis. We can do revenue management, construction management, brand compliance and debt sourcing, as well as bridge loans for historic tax credits. We do property improvement plans, historic tax credits, distressed assets and receivership.”
She continued, “With our two companies coming together, we are a turnkey solution, whether it be an owner, a bank, a broker or whoever needs services. I believe that we can fulfill whatever they need.”
The idea of the partnership came out of the current state of the industry, according to John T. Campo Jr., president of Campo Architects. “I was thinking about how we might position ourselves to take advantage of what’s to come,” he said. “We have a lot of clients who will hang on, but there are a lot of folks who will lose properties. And for those folks who are keeping the powder dry, so to speak, they’ll be well positioned to purchase some of these assets by cherry-picking them; we expect a lot of them will be rebranded and repositioned.
“We have had a relationship with InterMountain, and I started thinking of the services that we have and then I started thinking about InterMountain, and I said, ‘If we combine forces, I think we can come up with something unlike anyone else in the U.S.,’” he said. “So, the only road trip I’ve made since March 13 was to Monroe, to be with Colby, Jared Walker [EVP of IRC] and Dewey Weaver [owner of InterMountain]. I made the pitch to Dewey and it just made sense.”
Walker, who, as the story goes, was hired to work at InterMountain in the parking lot of a gas station where he ran into Dewey Weaver, said of the partnership, “The one piece that we never really tried to develop was adding architecture to our firm, and the one thing that John really has never put into his mix was procurement, and he had no interest in adding another team to his list of offerings. So, we both had a need.”
Campo Architects has been in business for 35 years and “while we’ve designed many different building types, our passion is hospitality,” said Campo. “In those 35 years, we’ve designed more than 200 hotel projects in 20-plus states. Currently, we have 20-plus hotel projects still very much alive and kicking that are either in design or construction.” He added that one of the largest projects the company has worked on was the recently opened JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District within the Plant Riverside entertainment complex in Savannah, GA.
“We’re best known for our expertise in adaptive-reuse and historic properties,” said Mary Gilmore, director of interior design for Campo Architects. “We’re actually Marriott’s number-one recommended firm when it comes to historic adaptive-reuse projects, but we also do our fair share of new-construction.”
Campo also is a partner in some hotel projects. “Owning hotels made me a better architect—being able to understand the project not just from the design aspects, but from the developer and owner side with respect to risks and budget, as well as designing projects where we’re trying to minimize full-time employees,” he said.
InterMountain has been owning and developing hotels for more than 35 years, and manages third-party properties as well, noted Jared Walker. It was with a managed hotel, the Residence Inn by Marriott New Orleans French Quarter Area/Central Business District, where InterMountain and Campo Architects first worked together.
“InterMountain about 10 years ago grew IRC and began renovating for third-party ownership groups,” he added. “That’s where our team got involved initially with project management, which quickly grew into renovation management and procurement. Design was the aspect that we brought on last.”
One of the things the companies will work together on is developing and designing hotels that can work in today’s world of health and safety precautions and social-distancing measures.
“This is just something that’s definitely on everyone’s mind right now; a lot of designers are looking into what the future of hotel design looks like,” said Gilmore. “The major brands have come out with some very loose guidelines as far as cleaning and housekeeping procedures, but what we’re looking at is a much more specific strategy from a design standpoint where it comes to both the short-term and the long-term renovation; by short term, that’s pre-vaccine and then long term is post-vaccine.”
She continued, “We want to plan enough flexibility and adaptability in these current projects that satisfies the immediate need but also doesn’t prohibit such strict construction that it can’t be reverted back to a traditional design layout.”
One of the things that is being focused on is the reinvention of the breakfast buffet, something that has been eliminated from hotels during the pandemic.
“We have a current project that’s an AC by Marriott, where AC has a very strict standard for how they would have their breakfast spread, but no one wants to be eating scrambled eggs out of a communal bowl anymore. So, we’ve actually done a concept design for the new AC breakfast buffet, and we’ve been working with Marriott on refining that.”
Adding touchless features and antimicrobial material throughout the property is something for the here and now that will also be important in the long term.
“I think the industry in general is turning to a touchless check-in experience. That’s become the new normal anyway: mobile check-in and kiosks, also any touchless design features that we can incorporate like voice-activated controls in the guestrooms that can control lights, HVAC, TVs, etc.,” said Gilmore, who pointed to natural antimicrobial finishes as gaining popularity. “Copper has an inherent repulsion to microbes, and the same with the lotus flower, which is something that has been around for a while. We’re starting to get into some materials that capitalize on this where the lotus flower biologically has a natural repulsion to bacteria, and that can be converted into building materials.”
Weaver Walker made sure to point out that not every project will need every service that the partnership offers. “We can offer each of the services individually, and we can compile as many of them as the owner, developer or whoever it may be would want,” she said. “So, you don’t have to need every single service to be able to use us. If you just need interior design, we can do that. If you just need somebody on the architecture side, we can do that. If you just need procurement, we can do that as well.”