Closer Look: The $200M Revitalization of Hotel Del Coronado

The Del’s “Master Plan” includes nearly 150 new hotel rooms, a new restaurant, and a grand upgrade to the arrival area at the iconic 131-year-old hotel on Coronado Island

One of San Diego’s most recognizable landmarks – the historic Hotel del Coronado – is undergoing a $200 million revitalization that will include new hotel rooms, a new restaurant, and a restored entryway that’ll take visitors back to the bygone era where resort began.

With approvals from the City of Coronado and California Coastal Commission in place, construction recently began at the iconic, red-turreted hotel on Coronado Island. The project, called the "Master Plan," is described by the beachfront property as a development "to preserve, revitalize and produce new aspects of the hotel."

Harold Rapoza Jr., general manager for Hotel Del Coronado, told NBC 7 Thursday the Master Plan has been in the works for more than a decade.

Rapoza Jr. said it was first approved by the City of Coronado in 2008 and by the California Coastal Commission two years later. In 2018, Blackstone Group – the company that owns The Del – decided it was finally time to begin executing the plan.

[G] Hotel del Coronado in Images

So, what does a project of this caliber mean for the 131-year-old landmark?

Key Elements of the 'Master Plan'

According to Rapoza Jr., the Master Plan will be rolled out over the course of three years and will be the resort’s most significant revitalization to date.

“We’re making sure this hotel is relevant for the next 100 years,” he told NBC 7.

Rapoza Jr. said The Del sees “ongoing change,” receiving upgrades every five to 10 years. The property’s first major renovation was in 1898. More changes came in 1973, 1979 and 2007.

This wave of change will include key elements like 142 new guest rooms, which will bring the room count to 898. Those new rooms will be developed on the south side of the resort and will boast views of the ocean, bay and pool courtyard. The existing 97 California Cabana guestrooms will also be enhanced.

The eateries at The Del will be refreshed, with a focus on the property’s central restaurant.

The hotel’s former fine dining restaurant, 1500 Ocean, shuttered in late 2018 but will be replaced by a new restaurant called Serẽa. In January, Eater San Diego reported Serẽa would feature a “sea-to-table” menu built on California-meets-Mediterranean coastal cuisine.

The restaurant is a project of Clique Hospitality, a group that runs dining and nightlife venues in Las Vegas and San Diego, including the swanky Lionfish at The Pendry hotel in downtown San Diego and several projects opening later this month at Sycuan Casino. Serẽa will be helmed by executive chef Jojo Ruiz, alum of the Lionfish team. The restaurant will feature an indoor and outdoor bar described by the hotel as the “see and be seen” focal point of the space. 

Meanwhile, at The Del’s entrance, crews will be busy adding a new landscaped driveway and arrival area reminiscent of the Victorian era. The new façade is inspired by the hotel’s original porch and wide veranda.

Rapoza Jr. said the project is being rolled out in phases to minimize impact from construction around the property. He said the hotel would continue to operate normally through all phases of the Master Plan.

He said the redesign of the entrance – which has not yet begun – will require temporarily moving the hotel’s entrance to the north side of the resort. Once it’s completed, the arrivals area will be moved back to its original location. That new entrance, he said, will be a stunner.

“The grand entrance is going to be spectacular,” Rapoza Jr. told NBC 7. “It will create a much grander sense of arrival.”

The Del will also see changes to its Vista Walk, a garden space used for events such as cocktail receptions and wedding ceremonies. The plan is to elevate and expand the area into one level; guests will be able to see the Pacific Ocean and The Del’s iconic red-roofed turret. The “Dragon Tree” – seen in Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like it Hot,” which was famously filmed at The Del in 1958, will be preserved during this process, the hotel said.

Hotel del Coronado will also get a new conference center on the south side of the resort – adjacent to those new rooms – which will be able to accommodate up to 1,000 guests.

The upgrades also include the addition of two underground parking structures: one below the conference center and the other on the north side of The Del, near Beach Village.

Rapoza Jr. said the construction of the new underground parking structures will add 239 more parking spaces to the resort. The hotel currently has 940 parking spaces; after the Master Plan is completed, it’ll have 1,179 spaces.

The parking structures will be open to the public, not only hotel guests. Rapoza Jr. said the first phase of the Master Plan will tackle upgrades to parking on the north side of the resort. That structure will be three levels – two underground and one surface level. It is expected to be completed by Nov. 1, 2019.

During the later stages of the Master Plan, Rapoza Jr. said parking on the hotel’s south side near the conference center will be built, with one level constructed underground.

In addition to the upgrades to the landmark, the Master Plan also focuses on preserving buildings that date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, including the Power Plant, Laundry, Ice House, and Oxford Building.

The Ice House will be renovated and turned into a “History Gallery,” where guests and visitors can learn about the resort’s rich, colorful past.

Rapoza Jr. said the Ice House dates back to 1888 – the same year the hotel opened. As the name suggests, the building once housed an ice factory that produced and supplied ice for all of Southern California.

Around 1909, Rapoza Jr. said the building was converted into an engineering-type area for the hotel. Over the decades, the Ice House has been used for many things, including offices, an administration area, and even a space to conduct upholstery work.

Rapoza Jr. said the hotel looked at the site today and decided it was well-suited to be transformed into a place to house The Del’s archives and artifacts. The daily history tours at the hotel will start and end at the History Gallery. Rapoza Jr. said the building will also likely include a gift shop. The History Gallery transformation is projected to be completed in the next 12 to 18 months.

In these preservation efforts, the general manager assured the historical parts of the property will be carefully conserved, and it’s charm untouched.

"The Del is so iconic; it’s so legendary," he added. "Now we have the privilege of ushering in this next chapter, in which we rejuvenate The Del’s timeless story with restorations and the addition of new, unprecedented experiences that will create memories for generations to come.”

How the Plan Will Unfold

The large-scale project is expected to be completed by late 2021.

As Rapoza Jr. said, it will be rolled out in phases – the first of which is now underway – and includes the development of the north underground parking structures, the restoration of the industrial buildings, the changes to Vista Walk and the debut of Serẽa. Portions of the first phase are expected to be completed by this summer and, by the year’s end, this phase should be fully wrapped up, according to Hotel del Coronado.

At a later time, the second phase will bring the redesign of the main entrance, the construction of the new conference room, more parking and the 142 new guest rooms.

Once the Master Plan is completed, Rapoza Jr. said the ease of walking around the resort will be improved. Locals and visitors will also have a better connection to the bay; Rapoza Jr. said the plan will add a new traffic signal and crosswalk to facilitate safer access to the bay.

Stacey Ellis, director of public relations for Hotel Del Coronado, said the upgrades will allow visitors to enjoy more of the hotel daily.

"There will be more areas where you can tuck in for the day and experience the hotel as a local," she explained.

Ellis said hotel accessibility remains a high priority and its grounds can and should be used by locals and visitors alike for a number "daytime experiences" – from daily history tours and outdoor movies, to long, lazy beach days.

Ellis said the beach in front of the hotel is always open to the public; visitors can rent a cabana for the day and even grab food from a nearby "taco shack."

"You can eat tacos with your toes in the sand," she added.

The (Very Much Abridged) History

Hotel del Coronado opened in February 1888 as a high-end, seaside resort with the same unparalleled ocean views that continue to make it famous today.

From the start, The Del drew clientele from all over the globe who would stay for months at a time. Over the decades, it also attracted celebrities, politicians and dignitaries and served as a backdrop for Hollywood movies, perhaps most famously the Marilyn Monroe-driven classic, "Some Like it Hot."

The 28-acre property was designated a National Landmark in 1977.

In March 2016, the property -- owned by Blackstone Group -- was set to be bought by a Chinese company for an estimated $6.5 million, but that deal eventually fell through.

In late July 2017, The Del joined the Hilton’s portfolio of independent, upscale Curio Collection hotels. The property continues to be owned by Blackstone Group, and is managed by Hilton.

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