After decades in the hotel industry, Ron Tarson got the opportunity of a lifetime in 2012 when offered the general manager position at Atlanta's iconic Westin Peachtree Plaza.
Leaving behind his native Chicago, where he had served as GM of the Westin Chicago North Shore, Tarson headed south to begin his tenure at the cylindrical 73-story hotel. When he arrived, the hotel was in the midst of a $70 million renovation led by Cooper Carry and interior designer Carolyn Auger, which transformed the 1,073 guest rooms, 53 meeting rooms, and expansive lobby from a Three Diamond to a Four Diamond property.
With the hotel celebrating its 40th year, we checked in with Tarson to hear about his experiences at the Westin and get the inside scoop on the year-long celebration.
CURBED ATLANTA: Designed by one of Atlanta's most revered architects John Portman, the hotel is both classic and timeless. How would you describe the building and what do you hear others say about it?
RON TARSON: There is a remarkable fascination with The Westin Peachtree Plaza. The incredibly tall, cylindrical design inspires great conversation and offers an extraordinary story for Atlantans and guests. Plus, there are so many unique surprises. When guests enter their room, they immediately comment on the floor-to-ceiling windows bringing the outside in with a flood of natural light. The hotel truly provides luxurious comfort while retaining a timeless edge.
CURBED: What are some of the most interesting things you have learned or discovered about the building in your time working there?
TARSON: Back in the early seventies, there wasn’t much of a focus on environmentally efficient architecture. Despite this, The Westin Peachtree Plaza has become a sustainability leader in the industry. In fact, we were proudly promoted to a Green Seal Silver Level Certified Hotel in 2012, making us the largest convention hotel in the Southeast to be Green Seal certified.
CURBED: Are there any secrets the building has offered up?
TARSON: I’m constantly discovering intriguing facts about the hotel. At 723 feet, The Westin Peachtree Plaza was Atlanta's tallest building until 1987, when it was surpassed by One Atlantic Center. Today, The Westin Peachtree Plaza is the fifth tallest building in Atlanta and remains the tallest hotel in the Southeast.
Many don’t know that the 73-story stairwell turns into a unique team-building activity — Climb the Peach — for meeting attendees to climb to the top of the hotel, which we launched last year with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
We’ve served millions of guests and the hotel has been home away from home to numerous celebrity clients, including Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, James Brown, Andy Rooney, and Peter Jennings.
CURBED: The Westin is an iconic feature of the Atlanta skyline — what do you think the building means to the city and what do you see as the hotel's role in the downtown area?
TARSON: Since 1976, Atlanta has transformed from a sleepy Southern city to a thriving urban hub. Throughout this growth, The Westin Peachtree Plaza has evolved with the city while remaining an iconic pillar. The hotel is the heart of the city and is a popular gathering place for a cocktail or dinner after work. Plus, the hotel is deeply connected with downtown sites like AmericasMart, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the College Football Hall of Fame, as well as already popular destinations like the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, and Centennial Olympic Park. The Westin Peachtree Plaza will always serve as a significant part of downtown Atlanta’s history and we can’t wait to see what’s next.
CURBED: What can Atlantans expect over the course of the year as the Westin celebrates 40?
TARSON: We’re celebrating the anniversary throughout 2016 by introducing special incentives, launching new wellness programs, and hosting a variety of gatherings. In a few weeks, our team is introducing a bike concierge program for our guests and meeting attendees to maintain their exercise regimen while out of town and explore Atlanta by cycling around the downtown sites. As the first Westin hotel to launch this unique program, we’re really excited to put our pedal to the pavement and help enhance the well-being of our guests.
Several retro-style offers are in place to mark the occasion. The Sun Dial will pay homage to the classic 1970’s menu with dishes and desserts that complement the decade. "Turn 40 With Us" is a special room rate for everyone born in 1976 and began on Feb. 27. In addition, the hotel will offer intermittent 40 percent sales throughout the year.
CURBED: During one renovation, a lot of original features including the interior pools were removed. At some point do you see some of those architectural trademarks — which Portman is known for — being restored?
TARSON: We are proud to be a John Portman-designed hotel. The avant-garde architecture has made us a staple of the Atlanta skyline and a midcentury modern icon. While all of our renovations try to preserve the features and integrity of the original design, we are very focused on enhancing the evolving guest experience and the updates have provided even more space for travelers to connect and engage. Unique spaces like Tangent, a technologically advanced ad-hoc meeting space for up to six people, are perfect for modern business travelers and meeting attendees.
CURBED: Back when the hotel was built, downtown was very different. Many of Portman's buildings, including the Westin, were designed to face inward, turning their backs on the street. Now, as downtown becomes vibrant, it’s clear that the building does not address the street well, especially Peachtree, presenting concrete walls and a rather unwelcoming environment to Atlanta's principal street. Are there any plans to enhance the street front of the building by increasing transparency or adding retail along the edges?
TARSON: Downtown is experiencing a vibrant resurgence and our hotel gets to be a significant part of the movement. Later this year, we’re planning to work with local artists on a unique art installation at the AmericasMart bridge connected to the hotel, providing a colorful and engaging spot for tourists and locals alike. Our goal is to enhance our neighborhood by working with local artisans while still staying true our roots.
CURBED: Beyond the Westin, what are some of your favorite spots in downtown?
TARSON: I like to detour on my daily commute whenever possible (especially when the weather is good). I enjoy winding around the King Memorial neighborhood, taking the Peachtree Center bike lane through the entire loop, working the Beltline trail into my ride to see what’s new, or trying to find a neighborhood or site that I remembered from one of the Atlanta Bicycle Tours I have taken.