According to the Orlando Sentinel, the US Goverment Hotel Shades of Green will be expanding from it’s current 287 rooms to nearly 600 rooms as soon as April. It has been rumored that the government will take over the recently closed Port Orleans resort while Shades of Green is being expanded.
Hotel marches forward
By Robert Johnson | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted January 4, 2002
At a time when many resort hotels at Walt Disney World are in retreat, the one reserved exclusively for the military is charging ahead with expansion plans.
The U.S. Army is planning to double the size of Shades of Green, its 287-room hotel at Walt Disney World, in a $50 million expansion project that may start as soon as April. The hotel is located near the Magic Kingdom.
In sharp contrast with Disney World’s recent closings of thousands of rooms at some of its resorts because of slow business, Shades of Green has been turning guests away lately with occupancy rates consistently ranging from 90 percent to 99 percent.
And that was before Disney World began its offer of free theme park admission for seven days to active military personnel from Jan. 1 to April 30.
That’s higher than the occupancies being reported by most attraction-area hotels. Disney World doesn’t reveal occupancy rates at its resorts, but tourism analysts and consultants estimate they have occasionally dropped below 70 percent since Sept. 11.
“We have been turning away as many customers as we take in,” said Pete Isaacs, chief operating officer of the Army’s Community and Family Support Center in Alexandria, Va. The agency owns and operates four military resorts, including Shades of Green. The others are in Germany, South Korea and Hawaii.
The resorts are exclusively for active and retired military personnel, civilian federal workers and their families. Guests are charged according to their rank. Privates pay as little as $62 a night, while captains, for example, pay $87. At the time Disney World sold the resort to the Army in 1993, room rates were typically $160, Isaacs said.
Some 75 percent of the military staying at Shades of Green are ranked either staff sergeant and lower among enlisted personnel, or are officers no higher than captain.
“We aren’t filled up with colonels and generals,” Isaacs said.
The Army bought the hotel from Disney, which ran it as the Disney Inn, for $43 million, Isaacs said. Disney still owns the land on which the resort sits, and the Army has a 100-year lease.
Guests at Shades are afforded Disney amenities such as free travel on the attraction buses, boats and monorails.
Isaacs would not comment on how many workers the expanded resort will employ in addition to the roughly 500 who are full and part time there now. Shades of Green employees work for Isaacs’ Army agency, rather than Disney.
He said he isn’t sure whether the resort will remain open during the expansion, but he has a plan to keep current workers on the payroll during the project. His idea is to negotiate with Disney World to temporarily operate some of the 3,500 rooms it has closed since Sept. 11. Possibilities include some of the shuttered rooms at the Port Orleans resort.
Although stopping short of confirming that Disney World management would agree to that, Bill Warren, a vice president there, said, “We’re very proud of our relationship with the military and look forward to helping them achieve their business goals.”
But negotiations for such an interim arrangement can’t start yet. First, Isaacs has to complete the Army’s financing package for the expansion.
“We plan to borrow privately for this. No taxpayer funds will be used,” he said. The Army’s resorts are supposed to operate without federal funding and generate enough revenue to pay their own expenses.
Although the room prices at Shades of Green are low, they aren’t government-subsidized.
“When you run at 99 percent occupancy, you make a profit. Not a big profit because we don’t charge that much, but we do make money,” Isaacs said.
So do the Army’s other three resorts, he said. Those are the 816-room Hale Koa on Wakiki Beach in Hawaii; the 401-room Dragon Hill resort in Seoul, South Korea; and four small hotels, totaling 335 rooms, in Germany, near ski areas.
All of them boast occupancy rates in the high 90s, Isaacs said.
And after Orlando’s Shades of Green is expanded to 574 rooms, he predicted, it will be “full most of the time, too.”