The Hilton Omaha is ready to host more Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, baseball fans, elite swimmers, conventioneers, rock stars, figure skaters and tourists than ever before.
After more than a year of work on a $37 million expansion and renovation project, the city-owned hotel in north downtown has an updated look and 150 more rooms.
And already, it's filling up.
Just weeks after workers put the final touches on the project, the now-600-room hotel was sold out during the weekend that NCAA tournament basketball games were played across the street at the CenturyLink Center Omaha.
The hotel is fully booked for the Berkshire meeting in May and the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in June. And reservations for the week of the U.S. Skating Championships, coming to the CenturyLink Center in January, are coming in at a steady clip.
"Once we added the rooms, they went pretty quick," said Brian Thomas, Hilton Omaha's director of sales and marketing.
City and tourism officials see the hotel as an important tool for making the north downtown area into a bustling tourist destination. With TD Ameritrade Park a short walk away, the CenturyLink Center connected by skywalk and the Old Market also near, it's meant to serve visitors in town for play and for work.
The expansion project was funded with revenue bonds issued by the city. They are to be repaid with revenue from hotel business, although the city would have to use tax revenue if the hotel doesn't bring in enough money. The city has estimated that the expansion could bring in an additional $1 million from property and room taxes.
Dana Markel, executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the additional rooms are a key selling point for groups searching for a convention destination. They seek a place with plenty of meeting space and plenty of rooms, along with a restaurant, bar and other amenities. Some, unable to find enough rooms in a full-service hotel, have opted for another city over Omaha. But now, Markel said, some are reconsidering.
"We've had groups who eliminated us and are now taking a second look because of the addition," she said.
The project also included the construction of a new 7,000-square-foot ballroom, a remodeled lobby area and the addition of 100 parking spaces. All of the guest rooms from the original hotel, built in 2004, were updated with new furniture and decor.
The Hilton is one of two AAA four-diamond hotels in Omaha. It's the association's second-highest ranking, and maintaining that requires a renovation every five to seven years.
Thomas said the goal was to give the entire facility a new, more modern look. Gone are the big, clunky armoires that made a room seem smaller, replaced with low-profile dressers and desks. The new rooms have larger flat-screen TVs and glass-door showers instead of bathtub showers.
"We wanted to make it look more sleek," Thomas said.
All of the rooms have bright blue doors and an updated color scheme, with deep reds, oranges and blues replacing the old red and brown themes.
The $1,100 per night Presidential Suite on the eighth floor, with its spacious living area, full dining room and floor-to-ceiling windows, looks like a mix of a modern apartment and something from the set of "Mad Men." Thomas said the suite gets booked regularly, often by high-profile businesspeople or musicians playing at a venue in town.
Some of the artwork in the lobby and other public spaces in the hotel was created by local artists. On a tour of the hotel, Thomas pointed out a new piece acquired from the Kaneko currently positioned near the hotel's bar.
Contact the writer: