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July 15, 2020

Signature downtown Hartford hotels layoff 300, hint potential closures amid pandemic

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper The Hartford Marriott Downtown at 200 Columbus Blvd.

The operator of the Hartford Marriott Downtown and Hilton Hartford hotels has permanently and temporarily laid off more than 300 workers, and reduced hours for another 50 due to worsening business forecasts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, state labor filings show.

Waterford Hotel Group Inc. in letters to the state Department of Labor (DOL) last week said it implemented temporary furloughs and reductions in hours at both hotels in mid-March that they originally believed would last less than six months as COVID-19 spread across the state. 

However, the management group said it implemented additional layoffs last week as it's now beginning to see the long-term impact of the coronavirus crisis, "which is much more detrimental than originally anticipated."

Nick Lorusso, general manager of Hilton Hartford, cautioned DOL in a letter that it "may ultimately be forced to close the hotel due to unforeseeable business circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Fabio Pari-Di-Monriva, general manager of the Marriott, also said "the hotel may potentially close."

"...we anticipate an increased reluctance to travel even after governmental directives are further relaxed, which will further damage the hotel's demand and operations," Lorusso said. "In this regard, while we had anticipated the state's phase two reopening would have resulted in increased business demand, we are not seeing any meaningfully sustained increase in business levels in either the short or long term at the present time."

The Hilton Hartford hotel at 315 Trumbull St.

Additionally, both hotels said delaying the state's phase three reopening and requiring self-quarantine by travelers from states recording high COVID-19 infection rates will also result in a major decline in occupancy that will deliver a "devastating impact on the hotel's business operations."

In a statement Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for Waterford said it's "evaluating all options for each hotel."

“The hotels are working hard to ensure their viability and we are communicating with the city and state to explore meaningful solutions to offset the devastating impact of the pandemic," the spokesperson said. "We remain hopeful that we will be able to continue to serve the greater Hartford community, the people of Connecticut and travelers visiting our state."

Michael Freimuth, executive director of the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), which helps manage the Marriott, in a statement via email said he’s been “concerned” about the layoffs and potential closures since March.

Freimuth said full-service corporate hotels, such as the Marriott and Hilton Hartford hotels are suffering from a significant decline in occupancy and will trail resorts, short-term stay, and other, smaller, “off-ramp” operations during the pandemic.

The temporary downtown closures of the Connecticut Convention Center and the 16,000-seat XL Center, which are also managed by CRDA, is also hurting both hotels, he said.

“Of course, this is a vicious cycle as their operations are functionally interwoven with these large venues and any reduced operations will adversely impact any events we might actually be able to restart at the convention and XL centers,” Freimuth added.

He continued: “This inverted cycle will have an exasperating impact on restaurants, garages and tax revenues. Travel restrictions, another spike in the virus and general business anxiety are all factors making this extremely vexing. How best to ride this business through is the challenge and a temporary closure or a greatly reduced operational format is quite possible.”

Certain affected employees at Hilton Hartford, at 315 Trumbull St., are represented by New Haven's Unite Here Local 217 union. The 124 laid off employees there include dozens of room attendants, banquet servers, cooks, managers and a director of operations, among others.

At the Marriott, 200 Columbus Blvd., the 182 laid off employees, including room attendants, servers, Starbucks baristas, and other housekeeping personnel, are not represented by a union.

Officials from both hotels said it's unknown whether the reductions in hours for 51 employees will be temporary or permanent.

Similar layoffs have been seen elsewhere across the state at the Sheraton hotels at Bradley International Airport and in Rocky Hillthe Marriott Hotel Hartford in Farmington; and the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Windsor Locks, among many others.

In March, the 116-room Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel in downtown Hartford said it was closing for good amid uncertainty surrounding mass COVID-19-related closings and cancellations.

Those closings and layoffs come as a recent report showed the pandemic could cost state and local governments in Connecticut more than $287 million in tax revenue generated by the hotel industry this year.

This story has been updated to include additional comments from Waterford Hotel Group and CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth

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