Brett Loehr, general manager of Hotel Tybee, has a dream for his oceanfront hotel: “To be Georgia’s premiere vacation destination — coastal family destination.”
He and other investors in the Linchris Hotel Corp. of Hanover, Mass., bought the 208-room hotel, then named the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort, on July 31, 2014, from longtime owner Harry G. Spirides.
Linchris investors own 36 hotels around the U.S., said David Thomas, Hotel Tybee director of sales and marketing.
Hotel Tybee is their first hotel in the South, Loehr said.
Since the sale closed, Linchris has spent more than $1 million to renovate the hotel, Loehr and Thomas said.
“This is our passion,” said Loehr, who moved here from Waterford, Vt., to run the hotel.
The work has already paid off. Hotel Tybee won the 2015 People’s Choice Award for Best Hotel on Tybee, Loehr said. Also in 2015, the review website Trip Advisor ranked it second among Tybee hotels, up from seventh place in 2014, Loehr said.
“They took something that had a bad image and made it wonderful,” said Charissa Murray, marketing director of Discover Tybee, an independent marketing group on Tybee Island. Loehr and his team have promoted not only the hotel but Tybee as a vacation destination on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she said.
“Tybee has been behind the curve for a long time,” Murray said. “With them coming and changing the hotel, all the hotels began raising the bar … doing updates.”
Also, Loehr, Thomas and sales manager Curry Nicolini have worked with the Tybee destination marketing organization Visit Tybee, which helped them promote their hotel and network with leaders in the Savannah hotel business.
“Brett and his team have taken a real interest in promoting Tybee Island as a top beach destination,” Visit Tybee director Sara Lane wrote in an email.
“They see the value in making big improvements to their property, which in turn helps to enhance the overall visitor experience on the island.”
Asked how Hotel Tybee affects the city’s economy, Lane said, “Hotel Tybee is repositioning itself to be Tybee’s ‘go-to’ hotel on the island for larger events and groups, which certainly is having a very positive economic impact.”
Remodeling top to bottom
Planning for remodeling the hotel began the day after the sale closed, Loehr said.
“It had very good bones structurally, and it was an unbeatable location. The structure was incredible but needed a lot of TLC,” Loehr said.
Among the improvements: a new roof, a new water tank, new boilers, new air conditioning and new paint. As for the outside appearance: “The color scheme was like a wave,” Loehr said. “We wanted something cleaner, modern … We wanted it to be khaki and cream-color.”
All the guest rooms and corridors were painted in similar “beachy” colors. Loehr said. Formerly drab hallways also got new lights, decorative wooden panels and new carpet.
“The Wi-Fi was done right away,” Loehr said. “We grew the bandwidth by five times. We actually replaced the Wi-Fi with a Rukus system so you can go down from the third floor to the first and stay connected with the Wi-Fi.”
Loehr and his team gave guest rooms new furniture, new curtains, new lighting and flatscreen TVs.
“The old bedding was the old style, just one sheet, a foam blanket and a comforter,” Loehr said. “Now it’s triplesheeted. The mattress has a filled topping, a first sheet, a flat sheet, a filled blanket and a top sheet. The sheets are loose. It’s a heavenly night’s sleep,” he said.
Also each king bed has five pillows, a combination of firm and soft pillows, he said. Another change: in guest bathrooms, soap and shampoo made from kelp.
Loehr plans more remodeling in the guest bathrooms in the next off-season, he said. Plus, comfortable mesh chairs and chaise lounges are planned for the swimming pool instead of plastic furniture.
What’s in a name?
The hotel’s name was the other major change.
A year ago, Loehr and his team dropped the name Ocean Plaza Beach Resort and retitled the business Hotel Tybee to match the name of two of its predecessor hotels.
According to a book by Spirides — “Images of America Hotel Tybee” — the business was Hotel Tybee from 1889-1909.
Pictures from the book show a grand wooden structure with a rooftop cupola. After that first hotel burned down, a new Hotel Tybee was built and was open from 1911-1961. A succession of motels followed until the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort opened in 1989.
“We just wanted to honor the legacy back to the hotels,” Loehr said.
Loehr said he and his team have been working hard to bring new business to the hotel.
“We host business retreats, which is a huge part of our business,” he said. “And we help them organize off site fun experiences whether in Savannah or on Tybee.”
They promote the hotel to military groups, and they’ve hosted conferences of 600 people five days straight in the off-season, Loehr said. Also, six movies have been shot at the hotel, he said, and the hotel does lots of weddings — “three or four times more weddings than they used to do — more than 100 a year.”
Loehr started in the hospitality business, working in a bed and breakfast when he was 13. He graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a degree in hotel and restaurant management and hospitality management in 1992.
He was a hotel general manager at age 24 and has worked for Linchris for 21 years.
Loehr has renovated 20 or 30 hotels, he said.
“But this is by far the biggest transformation … This is the best thing I’ve done for myself, my career and my family. My wife is thrilled.”
Loehr and his wife Rebecca, who have four children, have bought a house on Wilmington Island.
He said he wasn’t sorry to leave Vermont where he was running four Linchrist hotels.
”I donated my snow shovels to friends and family,” he said.
And he enjoys Tybee’s laid-back style. These days he comes to work without a tie and he has traded snow boots for boat shoes.