BRADENTON -- Competition is healthy for 32 available jobs at the new Hampton Inn and Suites-Bradenton Downtown Historic District.
More than 100 people turned out by noon Thursday during the first day of the hotel's job fair at the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium, said Kelly Ann Dixon, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
Spurgeon Nisbett, general manager of the Hampton Inn, has been impressed with the job candidates so far. It should be no surprise that personality is a big factor in hiring in the hospitality industry.
"We're not hiring technical. We're hiring personality. If someone has a great personality, that's who we want in the hospitality business," Nisbett said. "Somebody could tell me, 'I'm the best in computers.' That's OK, but we can train that stuff. I can't train somebody to smile and to be personable."
The former "Pink Pal
ace" hotel, 309 10th St. W, is interviewing for a variety of positions, including front desk, room attendants, laundry attendants and maintenance. The jobs come with a standard benefits package, including a retirement plan, medical and dental coverage.
"We've had a lot of people who have worked in the hospitality industry and know the industry. The people realize here how important tourism is to the area," said Dixon.
While folks are clamoring to get a job, the same can be said for people who want to book a room. Corporate and wedding event sales are brisk, showing a promising first quarter at the hotel, Dixon said. Starting Oct. 7, the public can make single-night reservations. Thanks to event/group bookings, it already looks like opening night, Nov. 19, will be sold out, she said, and more surprisingly it appears most of those guests live in Bradenton.
"I'm going to sell out with people living here the first night," Dixon said.
Part of that might be the emotional attachment to the history.
"Everybody has some ownership to this building," Dixon said. "They watched it go down and they fought for them to keep it and not tear it down, and then they watched it get remodeled and redone. And now that it's opening, it's almost like everybody's baby. I've never seen anything like it."
The hotel is undergoing a $15 million renovation by the Syracuse, N.Y.-based Widewaters Group. The developer hopes to honor the history of the hotel and at the same time achieve a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Widewaters received more than $1 million in incentives and $1.5 million in tax rebates from the city for the renovation of the historic hotel, and broke ground in January.
The Hampton Inn will have a nod to its past with a display area of some of the historical accoutrements uncovered in the building, said Damon Kinney, maintenance supervisor.
Brass elevator dials and push buttons, the old mailbox and part of the mail chute and other items have been refurbished and displayed in the lobby, he said.
Copper lanterns will likely be used on the west entrance, Kinney said, and the original chandeliers will be used in the colonnade. The wood panels on the ceiling will also be hand-painted during the restoration, Dixon said.
Nisbett knows expectations are high, and Dixon said the community's passion is obvious.
"I can't believe the love that everybody has for that building, and it's contagious," Dixon said.
Job candidates have come from larger hotel properties in Sarasota, while others are looking for their first hospitality job.
Bradenton resident Irene Cohello completed hospitality and tourism classes at the Manatee Technical Institute and is continuing to take marketing classes. The native of Peru hopes the combination of her training, ability to speak four languages and world travels will help her land an event-planning job with the hotel.
"I had the opportunity to travel a lot, and I was also living in Paris, in Europe," said Cohello, who worked in real estate in Peru. She met her husband in the United States when she was visiting her sister in Florida and calls Bradenton home now.
Roosevelt Stephenson is trying to land a job in grounds-keeping or maintenance after being out of work for about a month. He's finding temporary jobs, but permanent positions are tough to find, so every day he applies for a job, hoping for a call back.
"If you're lying down in the house, you're not finding a job," Stephenson said. "Every day I get on the bus, and it's hard."
Management will follow up with top candidates in the coming week, with the goal to start training staff the first week of October, Nisbett said.
"Once construction turns over those floors to us, we have to get in there and start putting the rooms together -- that's the training period for housekeepers," he said. "Once we get the computers on board, we can make sure everyone understands all the technical aspects."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.