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Riverside Hotel focuses its renovations on energy savings

by Jennifer Gonzalez

The 45-year-old Riverside Hotel in Garden City has been undergoing a transformation to lower the power costs for its 308,000 square feet of buildings.

An ownership group purchased the hotel two years ago from a Texas group. David Johnson, now a manager and part of the new ownership group, said the property was attractive because of its proximity to downtown and the potential development in the nearby 30th Street Corridor. The hotel sits on 14 acres next to the Boise River.

“For years it suffered from lack of attention and we bought it with the intention of bringing it back to its former self, which used to be the best hotel in town,” Johnson said.

The owner has done extensive work on the hotel already. Site improvements have begun, including new landscaping, the addition of the Sandbar patio and stage, updated terrace lounge areas and the replacement of old carpeting in some areas of the hotel. Fresh flowers and plants have replaced silk flowers throughout the facility. Bookings for events in conference rooms and the banquet facilities have risen 50 percent since the new ownership took over, Johnson said.

Less noticeable to guests are upgrades that focus on the property’s high energy usage.

“When we acquired the property in 2011, we determined that we had unusually high power bills which just weren’t normal,” Johnson said. He wouldn’t say exactly how high the power bills were when the group bought the hotel, but he estimated they were six times higher than the utility bills at a smaller, newer 100-room hotel he owns in Eagle.

In an effort to determine why his electric and gas bills were so high for the 303-room Riverside,  Johnson started working with Idaho Power,  the University of Idaho’s Integrated Design Lab and Boise-based Site Based Energy. IDL provides research, education, technical and analytical services to companies that need help lowering their energy costs through new construction or retrofitting existing buildings. And the lab works with Idaho Power to help the utility’s customers reduce their energy use.  Site Based Energy is a consulting firm that works with property owners and businesses to reduce energy consumption.

“We started with a walk-thru of the building and then we built a computer model to simulate [energy] use inside,” said UI Research Scientist Gunnar Gladics. Site Based Energy Vice President Leif Elgethun said after the audit was complete, engineers designed a multi-year plan to incrementally implement cost-saving measures.

The first phase of the three-phase plan for the hotel was replacing the lighting and other inefficient items, said Idaho Power Energy Efficiency Engineer Chris Pollow. Old lightbulbs in chandeliers and other lighting fixtures inside the hotel were replaced with LED bulbs that last nearly five years. Outside, the parking lot lights and other hotel signage was upgraded with energy efficient bulbs.

“Four lighting projects have already reduced their bills by 2 percent and saved 300,000 kilowatt hours,” Pollow said.

The hotel’s owners are installing smart thermostats,improving the hotel’s domestic hot water system and boiler unit, and slowly replacing 34 mechanical rooftop heating and cooling units on the roof. Phase two of the project will include the installation of heat pumps and a higher efficiency boiler. In Phase three, cracks in the building will be sealed.

“Sealing buildings tends to be pretty expensive, so sections of the hotel would be done at one time,” Pollow said.

Two years into a five-year plan to remodel and upgrade The Riverside, the owners have invested $2 million in energy improvements and other hotel upgrades.When they purchased the hotel in 2011, the management group said they expected renovations to cost around $1 million.

Power bills alone have decreased 10 to 20 percent since the work began, Johnson said. That number could jump as high as 50 percent when all energy-savings measures are in place. The exact amount the hotel plans to spend on all site upgrades slated for the next few years is not being released.

“[They] gave us a long-term plan to become a more efficient hotel and slowly but surely, we are getting there,” Johnson said.

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