::Inside The $75 Million Umstead Hotel
By R.Gregg, Raleigh Chronicle Editor In Chief
Thursday, April 12, 2007
CARY - The new 150 room Umstead Hotel in Cary on the SAS Institute campus in Cary has not only raised the bar for hotels in the Triangle, it's pretty much set the standard for luxury accomodations in the entire state.
The $75 million hotel, with its amazing Texas limestone exterior and copper accents, is as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside.
The hotel is located a short distance from the heavily wooded 5,439 acre Umstead State Park down Cary's Harrison Avenue, but the hotel property boasts its own quiet oasis.
With hundreds of trees on 12 acres and a three acre lake behind the hotel, it's easy to forget that the Umstead is a short distance from the hustle and bustle of Interstate 40.
Looking out over the back of the hotel, visitors can relax near an outdoor fireplace while viewing a fountain in the lake or watch the setting sun change the colors of the limestone walls.
"There are some great views," said Umstead Director of Sales and Marketing Richard Brooks about the outdoor amenities. "It's not only the hotel that's welcoming, but the surroundings as well."
Art Is A Focus Inside
The hotel is owned by and was conceived by the North Carolina power couple James and Ann Goodnight.
Dr. James Goodnight is known as NC's top tech entrepreneur and billionaire who started the software giant SAS Institute, which is located directly behind the hotel on a 300 acre campus. Ann Goodnight is well known for her devotion to and support of the arts in the Triangle and the state of North Carolina, which is truly reflected in the hotel.
The entire hotel is decorated with fine art and many of the items are representative of what the state of North Carolina has to offer.
"A lot of our artwork is from North Carolina artisans," said Brooks. "Ann Goodnight wanted to reflect North Carolina in a very positive and luxurious manner."
Anyone stepping into the hotel for the first time is overwhelmed with the look and feel of the unique property. With the hotel just opening in January, Richard Brooks of the Umstead says that many visitors comment that they had no idea that such an amazingly appointed hotel existed in the Triangle area.
"It's more like the 'wow' factor," said Brooks. "Many tell me that they had no idea this was here."
Visitors are impressed on many levels as they enter underneath a large copper roof where doormen greet guests. Upon entering the lobby, several works of art are present to please the eye including a magnificent piece of glass sculpture in the bar area.
A harp player is entertaining guests who can hear the beautiful music throughout the lobby and first floor which is furnished with furniture that features wood from South America specially hand-crafted in Milan, Italy.
Brooks said that the hotel is trying to please all of the senses of the guests through appealing "sights and sounds and food."
Brooks described the hotel as having a modern design that is very pleasing to the eye and very welcoming as well.
"It's a contemporary design that's very warm but stylish," he said.
Plenty of Amenities
Brooks said that the hotel offers a lot of amenities to guests and that they are encouraging not only business guests during the weekdays, but local visitors as well on the weekends.
"We're trying to make it a weekend destination," said Brooks.
In addition to spa packages which are offered in conjunction with the Umstead's large spa and fitness facilties, the hotel offers golf packages that allow players to enjoy hitting the links at the nearby Prestonwoods Country Club, which was also started by the Goodnights.
The hotel also has around 10,000 square feet of meeting space, which can be reserved for everything from business functions to wedding receptions.
Of the 150 rooms, 27 of them are suites says Brooks. All of the rooms feature 44 inch plasma TV screens, bathrooms with marble tile and large garden tubs, computer docking stations, 24 hour room service, and of course, the unique contemporary style seen throughout the Umstead.
Some rooms feature balconies with great views of the lake while others overlook the front of the hotel.
Currently rooms range from $299 to $349 per room but later this year as travel heats up, some may be in the $350 to $400 range. It's quite pricey for the Triangle market, but Brooks says that after opening only a couple of months ago, the "hotel is hitting on all cylinders" and has been doing well.
The Food Factor
In addition to beautiful surroundings, Brooks says that guests can expect the best in cuisine and will hopefully enjoy an excellent dining experience.
Much like the art in the building, the hotel's restaurant called Herons also reflects a distinctively North Carolina flavor.
The tarheel state influence can be seen in such dishes as pan-seared NC black bass and NC rock fish on the menu. There is also salt-brined Cane Creek Farm pork loin and side-dishes such as Carolina Ruby Red sweet potato gnocchi.
"Eighty percent of our produce is from North Carolina," said Brooks, who added that they always buy locally produced food whenever possible, giving guests the best freshly harvested ingredients.
Of course, if cooking with a southern flair is not your thing, Herons also offers such items as Mishima Ranch Kobe beef, cast iron seared ahi tuna, lobster & she crab bisque, pan roasted be bleu rouge chicken, and many more tasty dishes.
Prices for entrees range from $26 to $52, with most of them in the $30 - 40 range, which seems very reasonable for a hotel restaurant of this caliber.
On Sunday mornings from 11am to 2:30pm, the restaurant hosts a brunch buffet which includes a glass of champagne and a slection of items from a varied menu for $45 per person.
Brooks said that the buffet has been popular with weekend guests.
The Umstead Hotel has started a new service for guests that has been an English tradition since the 1800's -- afternoon tea time.
The new "afternoon tea" service is available in the bar area of the hotel every day and offers guests a chance to relax and enjoy one of the most well-known of contributions by the English to the civilized world.
In addition to the choice of the best of teas from around the world, tea time partakers are once again treated to a menu with a North Carolina flair for the price of $32 per person.
Items accomplanying the tea include shaved Johnston County country ham, strawberry preserves, buttermilk biscuits, smoked salmon and dill crème fraiche, pimento & goat cheese, chicken and watercress salad, egg salad, cornbread, macaroons, buttermilk scones topped with Devonshire cream and fruit preserves followed by strawberries and a Grand Marnier chantilly.
The hotel is so new that Brooks said that the Umstead is still awaiting its AAA Diamond Rating which should take place in a couple of months. Other influential reviews such as Mobil's hotel and restaurant ratings, which are conducted on a surprise visit, will probably take place sometime later this year.
If the hotel's current efforts are any indication, it's not hard to imagine the hotel receiving a rating that is equal to or better than the other top tier hotels found in the state.
In a state with majestic mountains and miles of sandy beaches, the town of Cary is not exactly the vacation capital of our state. But for upscale travelers who are looking to get away from it all in a luxury setting, the Umstead Hotel has become a great destination unto itself.
For more information on the hotel and spa, visit their website at: