With the major renovation of InterContinental Sydney already deep in planning and on the verge of construction before COVID hit, the pandemic was both an obstacle and a blessing for the property.
“We’ve had to be very patient,” says Brown.
“Things have taken a lot longer. We’ve had to…go left one day and then right the next day and just navigate around that but not lose sight of what the vision was, because it’s very easy to compromise.
“We said, we’re not going to compromise, we want to make sure that we come out at the other end with what we went in with. And that vision is actually becoming a reality.
“We ironed out the vision very early on about restoring the history of the building, [the] sense of place, bringing in the gardens, botanicals – everything had to come together from design, the journey, even down to the uniform design – it all tells the same story. And then going up to the rooftop is all about water and astrology, over Sydney Harbour.”
The building which now houses the hotel was once the state’s treasury, the Premier’s office and has also hosted the police and the ministry of transport over its lifetime, before becoming an InterContinental in 1985.
Brown says it’s the shared vision between all stakeholders, including the hotel’s owner Mulpha, architect Woods Bagot, the InterContinental Sydney team and IHG more broadly, that was essential to keeping the project on track when it hit pandemic obstacles.
“Even though we’ve had a lot of curve balls over the last two years, everyone’s had the same intent and everyone’s had the same vision. So we’ve become a really tightknit team of people who try to get it done in the middle of a pandemic.
“Coming out the other end and saying yes, it is really close to what we wanted…we’re all incredibly proud of this renovation.
“To me it’s not just a renovation, it’s a repositioning of this property, back to the iconic luxury, almost like [the] grand dame that it used to be. With its location in Sydney and this history in the building – there’s a handful of InterContinentals around the world that are these icons and this is one of them.
“And to be able to take it and put this $120 million injection into it and decide where we’re going to make the impact and bring it to life, it’s been an incredible opportunity.”
Amongst the challenges of the pandemic, last year’s Delta lockdown in Sydney ended up providing an unexpected opportunity for the renovation.
“When you get to public spaces, when you do a renovation of this magnitude, there is no easy way of doing it. There is disruption.
“Originally, it was going to be done in sections, so we would do a section, horde up a section, but it would have been noisy.
“When the Delta variant hit, in conjunction with our owners, we just decided to do all the heavy works whilst the hotel was closed. And we just bulldozed.
“I think it was in three days, the whole ground floor was raw concrete.
“So, in some respects, that was an added bonus, because we were able to get all the noisy works [done] while there was nobody in the hotel,” says Brown.
Each of the hotel’s 509 guest rooms and suites have also had a complete refurb.
“In this renovation, we have upgraded the entire infrastructure of the building, so all of the air conditioning, hot water lines…all of that that the guest doesn’t see, has all been upgraded. And then every single room was stripped back to raw concrete,” says Brown.
“All new bathrooms, all new fixtures and fittings, everything in the rooms is brand new.”
The renovation included replacing all of the guest room windows at a cost of $10 million to maximise the view.
“The view was split down the middle and now you walk in and it’s like a painting. You’ve just got this incredible view…which is what we want to celebrate, because it’s Sydney Harbour.”
For event planners, the conclusion of the refurbishment works means InterContinental Sydney’s event spaces are back in the market – during the renovations, the level of disruption created by the remodelling was deemed too great to operate the sizeable events offering at the hotel.
Brown says there is now even more to entice event planners to choose her property.
“There’s so much to celebrate in this building.
“As a meeting planner you get a sense of where you are.
“You have a sense of place around being in Sydney because we’ve brought the gardens into the theming, we have the history of the building that a lot of properties don’t have and I think that’s what we’ve really celebrated…you walk in and it’s just this wow factor of seeing this incredible historic building.”
“And our function rooms sit in those spaces, so you’re immersed in history, but then you have the modern contemporary design around with the driveway and the entrances and the reception area,” says Brown.
Another major win for business events is the opening of Aster Bar on the rooftop level – the space has never been open to the public before and the bar – with capacity for 110 – can now be booked for exclusive use for events on Monday and Tuesday nights. The views from Aster are impressive, looking out over Sydney’s botanical gardens, the Sydney Opera House, the harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
“There’s so many reasons for a meeting planner to choose this hotel now because it’s not just going to be a cookie cut experience. We’re tailor making all of our events,” says Brown.
On a culinary level, the team are embracing the whole of Sydney through event menus, theming different days around different parts of Sydney, from Bondi to the city’s multicultural west.
“Every day is different. Every coffee break, every lunch is different,” says Brown. “And it’s all themed around a sense of place – being in Sydney.”
The hotel’s major upgrade has also been a win for the sustainability of its operations.
“The whole backbone has been upgraded so all of it is way more energy efficient than it ever was in a historic building,” says Brown.
“We had a huge upgrade in technology as well that helps us manage the efficiency of the building, which we never had before because it was an old building. It’s got all these new bells and whistles and toys that are going to help us to be more sustainable.”
Brown says they’re also looking at everything they do to reduce the impact of the hotel.
“Even in the menus, all of the ingredients are locally sourced, it’s all from small suppliers, small farmers; it’s all local product, it’s not big mass produced product. It’s part of the journey we want to take,” says Brown.