A $20 million, 6-month reconstruction after Hurricane Michael has finally been completed.
PANAMA CITY — After a six-month, $20 million reconstruction, Holiday Inn Panama City is back open for business.
The reopening marks another significant milestone for the city and Bay County in its recovery from Hurricane Michael. Holiday Inn Panama City remains the only full-service hotel east of the Hathaway Bridge and has long been a favorite destination for business groups and military delegations.
The 173-room hotel at 2001 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. suffered “devastating” damage from the Category 5 winds of Hurricane Michael, said Philip Colvin, marketing director for Hilton Inc., its corporate owner. Most of the room windows and even some exterior walls were blown out, leading to severe damage throughout the building.
“The building looked like a honeycomb after the storm,” Colvin said Wednesday as he guided visitors through its spacious lobby.
Miraculously, more than 1,200 people who were sheltering at the 33-year-old hotel managed to survive the storm’s fury by moving from their rooms to hallways or the main lobby, he said. But the hotel interior itself was completely ruined.
Rebuilding the Holiday Inn first required a contracting team to strip the building down to its steel girders, removing water-damaged drywall, ceiling panels, carpeting, fixtures and sodden furniture, Colvin said. By January, that task was finished. Two Panama City firms, Florida Architects Inc. and Horsely Construction Group Inc. began redesigning and building the new Holiday Inn.
“The overall shape, structure and layout is the same,” Colvin said. “But now, we have completely modernized the building.”
The structure itself is designed to withstand Category 5 winds, he said.
Inside, guests will experience state-of-the-art lodging that features high-speed data and internet connections in all spaces, LED lighting and advanced HVAC systems that prevent rooms from gradually overheating during prolonged summer heat waves, Colvin said.
In the main lobby, architect Joe Sorci has created a new “live wall” that rises several stories up, taking advantage of a new design that enabled the contractors to significantly raise the lobby ceiling. Scores of planters mounted on a freestanding wall contain five different types of philodendron plants. The overall effect is to give the space a refreshing outdoor atmosphere, said construction project manager Joe Moseley. A series of concealed pipes provides a “self-watering, self-feeding” system to keep the plants healthy, he said.
“When the plants fill out in the next 30 days, the wall will really be something,” Moseley said.
One feature from the past that has been saved for the renewed Holiday Inn is the ornate scrolled woodwork framing the large mirrors in the bar, Colvin said. The wood and design were selected by Lela Hilton, the wife of developer Charles Hilton, when the original inn was built in 1985.
The hotel rooms have three variations with a king-sized bed, including one that comes with a combination sofa-daybed for children. It also has rooms featuring two queen beds. All of the interior elements, from lighting to furniture, are totally modern.
The Holiday Inn also has 3,000 square feet of meeting space, an interior swimming pool and spa, a full exercise room, and a lobby restaurant that serves meals all day.
Colvin said the hotel and its current 40-person staff made a “soft opening” two weeks ago. While final adjustments and installations are still under way, the hotel is open for business.
“By the end of today, we’ll have all 173 rooms ready for guests,” he said.
The hotel plans to hold a formal grand opening ceremony sometime in the fall.
“This hotel is something that will last 30 years,” Colvin said, “and it is something the community can be proud of.”