SAN FRANCISCO -- A sneak peek at the JW Marriott here is effectively a peek at the entire Marriott brand.

The property is undergoing its largest renovation ever, a $25 million project that will add lobby and room features that are expected to become standard chainwide in Marriott properties in the next two years.

After the renovation is completed in April, the San Francisco hotel will be one of the first of the JW Marriotts with the chain's new "great room" concept, where the restaurant, lobby and cocktail lounge merge into one large space.

Over the course of the day, the room will morph from breakfast room in the morning to a cafe and lunch spot in the afternoons to a casual lounge in the evening with a communal table and space for those who want to use their laptops or meet friends or business associates.

The cost of the JW Marriott San Francisco's lobby makeover alone will be in the $4 million range.

At Marriott's global general managers' conference last year in San Francisco, where the great room concept was unveiled, Marriott executives cited studies showing that business travelers were meeting associates in more casual environments, looking for a setting akin to a Starbucks where they can have a cup of coffee, a quick snack and access the Internet. The Marriott lobby concept, which includes the lounge areas for low-key meals and beverages, aims to fill that need.

The first Marriott to feature a great room was the Renaissance Times Square in New York, which was remodeled last year.

The San Francisco JW Marriott, formerly the Pan Pacific, was designed by renowned architect John Portman, who created the first atrium-style hotel, the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, in 1967 and later designed iconic hotels such as the Bonaventure in Los Angeles.

The San Francisco property, which opened in 1987, was intended to be the first in Portman's own hotel chain, but the venture did not take off. Pan Pacific Hotels managed the property from 1990 until 2006. Ashford Hospitality Trust acquired the hotel in 2006 and signed the contract with JW Marriott, which then took over the management.

The features from the Portman era that will remain are a lobby fireplace, the hotel lobby's signature "Joie de Danse" sculpture and, of course, the soaring atrium, now painted in brighter colors that open up and enhance the space.

"We're being very true to the original architecture while bringing in a fresher, lighter and sophisticated look," said Joel Costa, director of sales and marketing.

The 14,000 square feet of meetings space was redone last fall. A makeover of the guest rooms was completed in December.

Among the additions that are part of Marriott's new chainwide standards are flat-screen TVs connected to a new technology system that enables guests to plug laptops into a panel and view TV programming and their laptop data on the TV screens simultaneously. Guests also can plug electronic devices such as camcorders, digital cameras and iPods into the panel and use the TV screen for video and the TV's stereo speakers for audio.

New JW Marriott room standards called for 37-inch, flat-screen TVs and the technology plug-in panel, but the San Francisco property upped the size of its TV screens to 42 inches, Costa said.

New, sleek, contemporary furniture, including bedside reading lights, a large desk and luxurious bedding, also part of Marriott's new chainwide features, were added to rooms. The reading lights and large desk are part of Marriott's push to meet the needs of business travelers who are using their rooms as work places.

Other room amenities are a Herman Miller desk chair, three telephones, voice mail, in-room computer data ports and wireless Internet access.

The hotel's lavish Olympic suite, on the 21st floor with views of San Francisco's Union Square area, was redone with the same clean, modern decor as the rest of the property.

A top-floor Club Lounge, where a hot breakfast buffet, all-day snacks and beverages, evening hors d'oeuvres and honor bar are available, opened in December in the space of a large, former suite. Guests staying in rooms on the new Club floors and Platinum and Gold Elite Marriott Rewards members have access to the lounge; others can use the room for an additional $75 a day.

An unusual feature of the hotel is butler buttons in guest rooms. The buttons, originally installed by Portman, summon butlers who cater to the needs of guests 24 hours a day. Guests can also reach butlers via house phone.

The goal of the project is to raise the standards of the hotel's luxury and service in a more sophisticated and modern setting, Costa said. Rates will rise with the renovation; starting rack rates are expected to be $329 in the spring.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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