SAN JOSE — An iconic San Jose hotel that closed for more than a year is poised to once again become an economic spark plug, job creator and hub for business meetings, according to managers and leaders.
Signia by Hilton rolled out the welcome mat with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday evening to officially mark the reopening of the former Fairmont hotel, which was forced into bankruptcy and a coronavirus-related closure but is now set to be again a focal point for the vitality economy.
The reopening also symbolizes the rebirth of downtown San Jose, in the eyes of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
The coronavirus-related economic tremors have hit downtown, which is just beginning to recover.
“This city can be reborn and rise above the adversities of our time,” Liccardo said at the ceremony. “This hotel supports our faith in the resurrection of our city.”
The hotel closed in March 2021 and reopened in April this year, a closure that forced workers out of their jobs at the old Fairmont. Now the jobs are coming back to the hotel as it ramps up operations.
“We have over 100 people working here right now,” Jimmy Sarfraz, general manager of Signia by Hilton San Jose, said in an interview. “Our union partners have been very helpful in getting our team members back to work.”
Guests mingled in the lobby on Wednesday night, a welcome counterpoint to months of inactivity as the hotel battled bankruptcy proceedings to reorganize and reorganize its shattered finances.
“It’s great to see a room full of people having fun and celebrating and embracing human connection again,” said Catherine Hendricks, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.
Guided by Sam Hirbod, the hotel’s principal owner, the accommodation complex underwent a dramatic refurbishment in early 2021 that transformed the look of the main gathering areas.
“I wanted to reposition this hotel so that the passion, the faith that we have in this city is manifested in a spirit of hospitality,” said Hirbod. “Our goal is to offer the best in hospitality.”
The 805-room hotel consists of two towers, and its management has placed guests in the hotel’s south tower, the smaller of the two towers. The south tower has 264 rooms while the north tower has 541 rooms. Every room in the North Tower is being renovated and upgraded.
“Rooms in the North Tower will come online gradually throughout the year,” Sarfraz said.
As upgrades are completed, rooms in the North Tower are expected to reopen floor by floor.
More jobs are expected to be added to the hotel’s payroll as rooms, restaurants and amenities such as the pool and cabana section reopen.
“The past two years have been extremely difficult for our downtown area,” Councilman Raul Peralez said. “It’s a huge shot in the arm.”
The onset of the pandemic drove out business and leisure travelers and devastated the global hospitality and travel industries.
“Opening up for us makes a statement to the world, a statement to California that meetings are back,” said Gary Steffen, Hilton’s full-service global brand manager. “Groups and meetings are back.”
The coronavirus has destroyed business travel in particular. Hilton executives who attended the meeting said they saw signs of recovery.
“We’re starting to see more demand from our corporate group segment and our individual business travelers,” said Keith Clampet, senior vice president of hotel operations at Hilton Worldwide. “Growth is really starting to take off.”
The nascent job boom at the hotel is an encouraging start for the hotel’s rebound, the mayor said.
“It’s great to see 100 more families being able to support themselves and put more food on the table,” Liccardo said in an interview.
For decades, the hotel has been a mainstay of economic activity in San Jose. The Fairmont opened in 1987 and has been a key part of the city’s decades-long quest to bring more activity to downtown. After the 13-month closure, it looks like the Signia by Hilton hotel is set to resume that role, said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association.
“Since opening in 1987, this hotel has been a symbol of San Jose’s rebirth as a great city,” Knies said. “After the hotel closed, there was an energy void. Now that void is filled.