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Eagle Mountain House: Tune up for a baby Grand

Photos courtesy Eagle Mountain House

Loyal guests take offense when there’s talk of making changes at the Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, N.H.

They find comfort in the 97-year-old inn’s creaky wooden floors. Worn spots in the rugs are reminders of the times they have trooped through the lobby to sit beside the fireplace. They are revived by the 280-foot veranda that looks toward the mountains.

And so, when the hotel was sold a year ago and new owner, Florida-based Heaton Co., had thoughts of renovation and redecoration, guests’ reactions gave the owner — and the project — pause.

“People tell us they love the hotel, and they don’t want us to change anything,” said general manager Craig Boyer, who spent 20 years with Red Jacket Resorts in nearby North Conway before joining Eagle Mountain. “It is a historic hotel in a beautiful setting with a lot of charm. It is hard to put a finger on it but when you are here you just feel comfortable. The creaky floors, the frayed carpet. Guests are OK with that.”

In light of guests’ strong feelings, Heaton Co., and Hay Creek Hospitality, the management company hired to run the hotel, opted to wait and watch for a few months.

“We decided to evaluate for eight to nine months to see what worked and what doesn’t work,” said Boyer.

Now that it has, the team is prepared to go forward on a refurbishment that will “repair the things that are tired and renew what is here,” said Boyer. Work will be completed by 2014.

Hay Creek forges ahead
Changes won’t go as far as those made at other historic hotels that Hay Creek has revitalized, including the Centennial in Concord, N.H., and the Exeter Inn in Exeter, N.H.

Unlike the Centennial and the Exeter, where guest rooms were gutted, Eagle Mountain’s 96 guest rooms and suites will get new decor, furnishings and amenities such as flat-screen televisions.

The bar and lobby might be reconfigured to create a lobby bar. The restaurant’s dining room might be divided into smaller dining areas, including rooms for private dining.

A subpar fitness room will be brought up to speed; outdoors, a hot tub and a fire pit with built-in seating are likely.

“Elegant, country inn” is how Boyer describes the new direction. In terms of ratings, he hopes to move the inn from AAA Two Diamond to 3.5. Four Diamond probably isn’t attainable, he said, because requirements such as 24-hour room service don’t make sense for the inn’s client base.

The hotel will remain open as improvements are made with much of the work to be done in the late spring and late fall.

Meet in converted carriage house
With the exception of two 800-square-foot meeting rooms in the hotel, meeting space is in a detached carriage house, a 250-foot walk from the hotel.

Downstairs, the carriage house’s 1,800-square-foot ballroom is served by a prep kitchen. Adjacent to the ballroom is a large deck, with mountain views. Upstairs, eight breakout spaces can seat eight to 10.

Improvements for the carriage house include a permanent service bar and expanded restrooms.

One of the first steps in increasing the inn’s meeting business was an expansion of its sales staff. Previously, sales was more akin to order taking. Twenty years ago the hotel’s rooms were  sold as condominium units so the property was run by a condominium owners association.

Now, with a sales manager and an assistant in place, occupancy has risen 10 percent in the past year; Boyer hopes to increase that even more as improvements make the hotel more appealing and appropriate for associations and even some low-key corporate outings, especially those in which attendees devote half a day to work and half a day to skiing, canoeing or other nearby outdoor activities.