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April 2007
Labor of Love
By Susanne Deitzel

     H.C. “Smoky” Bissell and his wife Sara began the planning for Ballantyne Resort in the mid ’90s; their casual picnics on her family’s old hunting grounds allowed them both, as Sara fondly recalls, “to let the dogs run wild” while they “talked big.”

     What was hardly imaginable then was that those playful conversations would yield the luxury hotel that has become the cornerstone for one of the largest and most exclusive communities in Charlotte. Today, Ballantyne Resort’s domed cupola can be seen from almost any spot in the city and its prestigious reputation commands attention from all over the region and garners national ratings.

     Six years after welcoming its first guests, Ballantyne Resort has become a beacon to business travelers, golf enthusiasts, spa devotees, and increasingly, locals who visit the hotel on weekends for mini-getaways. Travelers from far and wide mingle with Charlotte natives amidst the crimson upholstery and polished mahogany of the Veranda Bar featuring live music several nights a week; executives on corporate golf outings talk business over drinks at its tony bar. Smiling couples celebrate special occasions at the hotel’s new fine-dining Gallery Restaurant featuring a classic yet contemporary take on American fare.

     Since its opening, the Ballantyne Resort has been recognized by critics as the ultimate culmination of luxury, service and elegance. However, the Bissell’s initial plan paired with their staff’s unremitting attention to detail and service has encouraged quantum leaps in the hotel’s evolution. Staff members are encouraged to get creative, to seek out the next best offering that will delight their guests. The results are nothing short of extraordinary.

 

Southern Hospitality

     The Ballantyne Resort opened in 2001 and was courted to become a Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel in 2005, a recognition enjoyed by only 80 luxury hotels globally, and the only hotel between New York and Florida enjoying that designation. The Bissells’ original vision, a combination of classic elegance and bright modernity, coupled with unparalleled luxury and service, has made the AAA Four Diamond resort a must-see for those in search of opulence.

    The star staff at the resort hotel has devised a formula that frequently commands accolades beginning with: “The Best …” Each team member is hand-selected for their high standards and sincere delight in service. Comments Joe Hallow, president of Bissell Hotels, “Great hotels with great service are built on the foundation of hiring only the best people, demanding practice and hard work come together to consistently exceed guest expectations.”

     Smoky Bissell’s original plan for the resort intended for the luxury hotel to accommodate guests of the Ballantyne Golf Course he had been planning for some time. The Ballantyne Golf Course was a project created to accommodate golfers and business people traveling through or visiting Charlotte. It is situated at the heart of the 2,000-acre Ballantyne mixed-use development that features private residences and 300,000 square-feet of retail space, which also carries the Bissell stamp.

     The Ballantyne mixed-use development currently has over 2.5 million square-feet of  “Class A” office space, and with the ability to build up much more, this development is one of the largest concentrations of office space in the southeastern United States. Each component—the 535-acre corporate park, surrounding residential communities, golf course, area hotels and Ballantyne Resort—work in harmony to leverage each component of the area toward a powerful regional synergy.

     But of these constituent elements, the Ballantyne Resort is the undeniable main attraction. Its award-winning golf course was meticulously planned and is painstakingly maintained, providing a picturesque backdrop to the plantation-style structure of the 214-room hotel. The resort is also home to the 20,000-square-foot award-winning Ballantyne Spa, a newly showcased Gallery Restaurant, a pro shop, numerous conference and banquet rooms, and a newly expanded bar offering the area’s only $300 cocktail, fittingly named “The Ballantini.”

     But the accommodations, amenities and awards aren’t what make the Ballantyne Resort inimitable. It is the extraordinary attention to every detail and personalized service, from design to operations, that set this establishment apart.

 

Fine Appointments

     The appointments for the Ballantyne Resort were lovingly accumulated during the Bissells’ travels to exotic locales like Bangkok, Singapore and cities in Europe. Hand-loomed rugs, stately antiques, and carefully chosen art are generously displayed in the hotel for visitors to appreciate.

     The color schemes, room themes, and design savoir-faire are directly attributable to Sara Bissell, an esteemed interior designer. Her penchant for vibrant palettes and thoughtful personal touches are what has defined the resort hotel’s character. The result is a clever juxtaposition between honoring historic Charlotte and recognizing the jubilant attitude the city demonstrates toward seeking the finer experiences in life.

     The most salient example of Sara’s influence is the original artwork commissioned by the Bissells from artist Thomas Vieth which render Charlotte landmarks in resplendent color throughout the Resort. Another painting from former Secretary of State Donald Regan which adorns the Presidential Suite and an impressive breakfront from Prince Charles’ Trust are also exemplary of the distinctive strokes that make walking through the resort not unlike a lively museum tour.

     Joe Hallow says that it was the Bissells’ special vision that brought the resort to the attention of Starwood’s Luxury Collection of prestigious hotels and resorts. “The affiliation of the Ballantyne Resort with The Luxury Collection is a true testament to the vision Smoky Bissell and his wife Sara had when the property was developed. The acceptance by Starwood substantiates that our dream to compete favorably with the finest properties in the world has become a reality.”

    Since the Starwood affiliation, the resort has continued to expand upon its offerings, and resort team members have a full-time job trying to ‘one-up’ themselves in service. Comments General Manager Steve Kalczynski, “We try to make a difference by understanding the needs and desires of our guests before they arrive, and then exceeding them.”

    Palatial bedding, Egyptian cotton linens and rich robes greet guests in their suites; soft music, handwritten welcomes and guest baskets are also common. Executive suites include flat screen televisions, break out rooms and outdoor balconies. Warm or cool towels, dependent on the weather, greet guests in lounges and guest rooms, and flavored water is available at strategic points in the event a guest gets thirsty. Occasionally, a lucky visitor gets treated to the sight of a child wheeling around a red-wagon full of toys, complements of the hotel during a family stay.

     Obviously, the resort excels in a concierge mentality. Explains Ballantyne Resort representative Christina Argeris, “One of the most exciting things about working here is the fact that we are given every resource we need to do our job, and that job is making people happy. We have a specially created Guest Relations Department whose primary function is to get creative and make that emotional connection with our guests. Whether that means offering a gift basket for a returning guest, or knowing the special tastes of a guest beforehand, we are here to make what looks like the impossible, possible.”

     To that end, the past year at the resort has been one of purposeful renewal. Now established as an upscale destination resort and golf course, the resort plans to continue its excellent service for hotel guests while also reaching out even further to Charlotte communities with its golden touch.

     “We wanted to offer the people of Charlotte the same high-quality service, luxurious atmosphere, relaxing entertainment, and sumptuous dining that we offer our traveling guests. So, we collaborated on plans to make the resort more accessible,” says Argeris.

     The result is the Gallery Restaurant, helmed by Executive Chef Kirk Gilbert, formerly of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. Gilbert exhibits an intuitive flair for pairing the traditional with the eclectic, offering market-fresh and regionally influenced fare with a refined and artful presentation. Highlights of the menu range from a Mediterranean Sea bass to the much-heralded Prime Moyer Beef, which discerning diners will recognize as purely bred Aberdeen Angus—the ‘Cadillac’ of steaks.

      Named for the Bissells’ appreciation of fine art, Gallery Restaurant is complemented by a posh bar, designed to evoke modern luxury in a relaxed environment. The walls are lined with dark mahogany, hardwood floors provide a rustic charm, and the space boasts a white onyx bar as its centerpiece. Here, appetites are indulged with Southern favorites or Spanish tapas over casual conversation or taking in a sporting event on the wide screen plasma TV.

      Says Argeris, “Every experience at the hotel is designed to be an enriching experience for the senses, be it a visual delight from the magnificent setting, or appreciating the indigenous flavors of the restaurant and bar. Our staff is also committed to delivering pleasant, attentive service that never fails to surpass expectations.”

 

Plenty of Room

     The Bissells are known for their vision and for cultivating teams that strive for the highest level of performance. But even they are surprised at the fruits that have come to bear from this oft-regarded “labor of love.”

     Since the completion of Ballantyne Resort Hotel and Golf Course, and finalizing the development of the 2.5 million square feet of office space in Bissell’s Ballantyne Corporate Park, an entire submarket has flourished under the auspices of high quality and best service. The resort shines like a jewel just across Highway 521 where over forty     Fortune 500 companies and countless other businesses call home.

     Comments Bissell Companies CEO Ned Curran, “The Ballantyne Resort is the standard bearer for the region; there is incredible synergy between the hotel and the corporate park, and also with fine residential communities and the upscale retail centers that have grown up around us.”

     The original stroke of genius was to get visitors, business people and travelers alike, interested in all that Charlotte has to offer. By offering Ballantyne Resort as a travel destination propitiously located across from a giant, well appointed, Class-A office park, light bulbs of opportunity started flashing for both relocating businesses and retail businesses alike; all the more reason Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority chose Ballantyne Resort as a “Partner of the Year” in 2006.

     But like most things in the Bissell world, there is always a ‘next level’ to be sought. If anything can be counted on, it is that the Ballantyne Resort staff will continue to create new services and more amenities, and endeavor to keep raising the bar. Argeris says that creating special packages like their current “Whitewater Package” that combines a hotel stay with a recreational trip to the new U.S. Whitewater Center, and holiday packages like Valentine’s Day romantic getaways, are another way they try to offer the best experience to guests during their visit.

     Even Ballantyne Corporate Park is eyeing up space next to its charismatic sister. Plans are underway to locate additional 2.5 million square feet of office space in and throughout the east side. Ever the careful stewards, The Bissell Companies are planning carefully with regard to preserving green space and of utmost importance, keeping the golf course one of the finest in the region.

      Concludes Barry Fabyan of The Bissell Companies, “The Ballantyne Resort has played a dramatic role in attracting major companies like AXA-Equitable, SPX, The Lending Tree, and others who have a demonstrated commitment to quality and service. Charlotte as a whole is very fortunate to have visionaries like the Bissell’s who could see the vast potential from the very start.”
Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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