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Galt House says goodbye to gaudy

Courtesy The Galt House Hotel

Al J. Schneider had vision.

Forty years ago, he saw what Louisville’s riverfront might 
one day become, and he built a gigantic downtown hotel near the Ohio River. A sand company and 
a scrap yard were its neighbors.

Sure enough, the riverfront and downtown Louisville slowly came around. But by the time they did, Schneider’s Galt House had become an out-of-date albatross, an anchor that was a drag on the city’s convention business. Schneider’s Depression-era roots had trumped his visionary tendencies; he failed to see that his hotel had become antiquated as the rest of Louisville blew by it.

Renovation critical to conventions
Today, after a multiyear, $70 million renovation, the Galt House is once again a key player in its community. With 1,290 guest rooms and 128,000 square feet of meeting space, it is by far the largest hotel in Kentucky.

The revitalization has been huge for Louisville. Jim Woods, president and CEO of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Louisville Courier Journal that the Galt House renovation was critical to the city’s success in the convention segment.

The Future Farmers of America and other large citywide conventions that had left the city are returning. The Galt House’s occupancy rate, 35 percent before the renovation, is now almost double that.

Some 2,000 meetings and events are held at the hotel each year. “Nine times out of 10, we are the headquarters hotel,” said Lisa Haller, executive director of sales and marketing.

Moseley leads change

Much of the credit for the turnaround lays with Mary Moseley, Al Schneider’s daughter, who stepped in to lead the family-owned hotel after her father died in 2001. She realized that the Galt House needed a major makeover but kept quiet out of loyalty to her father.

Others in town weren’t silent. Then-Mayor Dave Armstrong had put it bluntly to Moseley: “He said we were costing the city money because of lost business,” she said.

After she took charge, Moseley tallied the costs of needed renovations and presented the $50 million price tag for proposed improvements to the company’s board, made up of her siblings and a number of outsiders. “I think my family just about fell on the floor,” she said.

Like their father, the Schneider children were fiscally conservative. “Father had taught us if you don’t have the money in your pockets, don’t buy it,” said Moseley.

Instead of $50 million, the family approved $1 million in fix-up funds. Unabashed, Moseley applied the money to the lobby. As her family members saw how much the upgrades cost, they began to loosen the purse strings.

“We took it in small bites,” Moseley said, “$10 million here, $10 million there.”

So the multiyear makeover of Kentucky’s largest hotel began. By 2005, the Suite Tower was completed. By 2008, the Rivue Tower renovation was done.

For years, locals had shaken their heads over the Galt House’s medieval decor: dark, heavy and completely out of date.

“It is no secret that it had the reputation of being the gaudy Galt,” said Haller. “But there was also a feeling that we were a nifty, neat hotel that needed some freshening up.”

A new decorating scheme that was traditional but noticeably modernized erased the gloom through raised ceilings, improved lighting and shades of gold and cream.