OCEAN CITY — A proud, old Boardwalk hotel dating back nearly 90 years is getting a literal and figurative facelift of sorts this week, thanks to the intervention of the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” show and its host and noted hospitality “fixer” Anthony Melchiorri.
The Lankford Hotel and its associated cottages and apartment buildings on 8th Street and the Boardwalk opened in 1924 and has been owned and operated by the same family ever since for nearly nine decades spanning several generations. While the hotel has retained its early 20th Century charm and has attracted many of the same visitors each summer for decades, the facility has found it difficult to compete with the newer, more modern Ocean City and its sparkling big hotel chains with the latest amenities, particularly in the often-tough shoulder season.
To that end, the family reached out to noted hotel guru Melchiorri and his crew from the hit Travel Channel show “Hotel Impossible” to provide a new set of eyes and ears on some of the issues, both aesthetically and from an operational standpoint. The “Hotel Impossible” show follows Melchiorri as he rescues struggling hotels, some which are down to their last hope and at risk of closing, and others, like the Lankford, for example, that need a nudge into the 21st Century.
Each of the show’s episodes features a hotel either not living up to its potential or on the verge of closing. Melchiorri assesses each property and identifies its biggest problems. He then meets with the staff, from the owners to the front desk receptionists to the housekeepers to determine the key operational issues.
The three-and-a-half-story Lankford Hotel, with its familiar Tuscan-column façade, is a Boardwalk landmark at 8th Street. The hotel was built and operated by Ocean City pioneer Mary B. Quillen, who named it in honor of her aunt, Amelia Coffin Lankford, from whose inheritance she funded the project. It has remained in the family ever since with current owner Sally Rutka and her family now operating the hotel.
Rutka’s great aunt was Mary Quillen, who sold it Rutka’s parents in 1962, just four days before the famed Ides of March storm devastated much of the resort area. Rutka bought it from her parents in 1988 and has run it ever since with her family. Rutka said this week she reached out to the Travel Channel and the “Hotel Impossible” show on the advice of her children.
“We’re not a modern hotel,” she said. “This is about getting an outside person’s thoughts on what we can be doing better. We’re kind of stuck in the traditions of how this is run. The girls have made updates and upgrades, but we’re a little stuck in our ways and it doesn’t hurt to bring in somebody from the outside to look at it from a different perspective. We can say ‘well, our father did it that way and his father did it that way before him,’ but it doesn’t work that way in the modern world.”
Melchiorri and his crew look at properties from a variety of angles, from aesthetics to operational issues and make the changes necessary for continued survival. With its familiar early Ocean City architecture and its wide porch fronting the Boardwalk and ocean, the family and the “Hotel Impossible” crew are striving to retain the property’s charm.
“He’s cognizant of that,” said Rutka. “He didn’t come in here and say you have to tear this down or do this a completely different way, we just need to bring this up to date. We’ve always been under constant renovation with projects being done all the time, but we can’t afford to do a major 100-percent renovation. This will allow us to do that somewhat.”
Rutka said residents and visitors should not expect a complete overhaul or remodel of the hotel, but instead tweaks that make it more modern and enhance its rich history. Perhaps more importantly, Melchiorri and his crew will implement 2013 operational changes on the early 1920s hotel.
“It’s not necessarily all about the aesthetics,” she said. “It’s about looking at a different way of doing some things. We’re not opposed to change, in fact, we’re ready to embrace it. We’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time and one of the kids will say ‘let’s try to do this or that differently’ and we’re open to that.”
While the family is open to change, one area in which Rutka said she would be reluctant to budge is on the published rate schedule. She said this week she has resisted the urge to spike her rates when the town’s demand exceeds supply in the past and won’t likely be convinced to change that policy.
“One of the things we’ve discussed with the kids is why we don’t do discounts in the shoulder seasons,” she said. “We publish our brochure and our rates are available on-line and our guests are going to pay that rate whether we’re 99 percent full or there are just three rooms rented. The last thing I want is for families on the beach to discuss how one called ahead and booked for $200 per night, while the family right next to them walked in and booked for $400 a night.”
In general, however, Rutka said she is open-minded to Melchiorri’s recommendations and hopes his famous magic touch can help turn around the Lankford and bring it into the 21st century.
“The older it gets, the more archaic it seems sometimes,” she said. “We can’t compete in today’s world by doing the same things we’ve always done, so we’re ready to embrace the change.”
The “Hotel Impossible” crew arrived in Ocean City on Sunday and by Tuesday morning, scenes were already being filmed around the property. The Travel Channel and “Hotel Impossible” use local contractors for their projects all over the country and the Lankford project in Ocean City is no different.
For this project, “Hotel Impossible” has enlisted the services of local contractor Joseph T. Dashiell Builders, Inc., which is tackling the task of a major remodel in the span of less than a week.
“We hope to turn it around in four days,” said Joe Dashiell this week. “The timing creates a lot of challenges. This is a project we would normally take a month to finish at least, but we’re taking it on in four days.”
Dashiell said the timing of the project on the cusp of the busiest time of the year in the resort also creates challenges.
“It’s also our busy season, and a busy season for contractors all over the area,” he said. “We’re acting as the facilitator for the project, so we have to coordinate plumbers, electricians and outsourced stuff, so we really have to make sure we’re on top of everything.”
Dashiell said thus far the Lankford project and working with Melchiorri and the Travel Channel has been a pleasure.
“We’re tickled to be involved,” he said. “This is a great experience. The Travel Channel people have been great to work with and they’re using all local contractors and workers. The hotel staff has been a joy to work with also.”
The renovations and filming of the “Hotel Impossible” episode began on Monday and are expected to be completed by Friday.
“Hotel Impossible” starts airing its third season in August, although the episode featuring the Lankford will likely air several months down the line.