The Norman Transcript

June 9, 2013

Norman hotels rise to challenge after tornadoes

Transcript Staff
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Since the initials hours after the F-5 tornado struck Moore on May 20, Norman’s county neighbor to the north, local lodging hosts faced a unique situation as rooms filled almost immediately.

The Hilton Garden Inn, located along the Interstate 35 frontage road south of the Robinson St. exit, was filled to capacity for 12 out of the first 14 days following the Moore tornado.

Deidre McClendon, the director of sales, said the property first filled with displaced families but by the second day, other overnight guests were occupying the hotel from insurance adjusters to non-governmental agency workers.

The Marriott-operated National Center for Employee Development, Norman’s largest property with nearly 1,000 rooms, has been averaging 80-percent occupancy since May 20. The hotel is located on Highway 9 East, south of the University of Oklahoma.

NCED has been housing American Red Cross workers and Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel as well as people who lost their homes. In some cases, FEMA representatives have met on site with families. One of the ballrooms has been housing supplies for the Red Cross.

“There are people from all over the place who are here,” Egan said. “They are all saying how great the people from Oklahoma are and how helpful the employees have been. They love our Oklahoma hospitality.”

Embassy Suites Conference Center and Hotel’s General Manager Michael Vance said that on May 20, the University North Park property in north Norman filled up with people who lost their homes. A conference began the following day.

“They (conference organizers) approached us to let us know they wanted to double up their rooms so that people who lost their homes would not have to find a place to stay again,” Vance said.

The organizers and staff then embarked on the arduous task of figuring out which attendees would stay in which rooms to make room for everyone.

“We didn’t mind the extra work at all, making it work out for everyone,” Vance said.

Six employees at NCED lost their homes in the storm. Marriott personnel in Texas began a process to support their Oklahoma colleagues by asking those six families to register at Target for what they needed and have started a drive to fulfill the requests.

Egan also said NCED has hired temporary housekeeping and food staffers since May 20.

“This is going to have a long-term impact so we want to make sure we can handle the demand,” Egan said. “Our staff has been great and has been working 16 hours day and through the weekends.”

Journalists and one displaced guest have brought extra business to Montford Inn & Cottages, a local bed and breakfast.

“June has been a busier month for us than normal,” said Montford Inn owner William Murray. “Usually we slow down a little after graduation.”

Murray said there is still room at the inn, however.