Published February 23. 2013 4:00AM Updated February 23. 2013 3:23PM
Preston - It's not often a multimillion-dollar project comes in ahead of schedule, but Patrick and Lisa Levantino beamed Friday as they gave a tour of their new Hilton Garden Inn at the corner of Route 2 and Watson Road.
The roughly $13 million hotel received its final permits from the town last week. Hilton's quality control inspectors came through soon afterward, and the hotel passed with flying colors. It now can boast of being the closest hotel to Foxwoods Resort Casino that's not actually part of the Mashantucket Pequot enterprise.
The hotel has beaten two projected opening dates. Hilton's Internet reservations start March 1. Patrick Levantino last week projected today as the opening day, but the hotel actually accepted its first guests Thursday night.
"I think it's mostly our families," Lisa Levantino said. Her parents were visiting from Texas.
Hotel General Manager Chad Eaton said business is picking up fast. About 20 people had reserved for Friday night by 5 p.m. Lisa Levantino's mother recommended turning on upper hotel room lights to show to the Route 2 traffic that the hotel now is open.
With the lights on, word of mouth and valuable referrals from Foxwoods and Patrick Levantino's other nearby hotel, the Bellissimo Grande in North Stonington, word is spreading fast.
"Welcome to The Garden," the sign etched into the automatic sliding doors out front said. Hilton Garden's signature white birch branch motif is evident throughout the lobby. Hilton Garden officials have much control over the décor, from the Japanese lantern-style overhead lights to the exact placement of flower vases, carpet and wall colors and room furnishings.
All rooms have refrigerators, microwave ovens and coffee machines. Because the hotel caters to business clientele, a pantry off the lobby sells prepackaged quick microwave meals. Hilton also ordered high-end ergonomically friendly desk chairs for each room. Free Wi-Fi is in all the rooms.
First Selectman Robert Congdon and Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent whipped out their smartphones at that announcement to give the Wi-Fi a try.
"Worked right away," Nugent said, to Lisa Levantino's pleasure.
The 107,000-square-foot hotel has an indoor pool and will have an outdoor Jacuzzi with heated floors come spring. Twenty-six of the 165 rooms have hot tubs.
The Garden Grille and Bar at the hotel is open for breakfast and dinner to the public as well as hotel guests, and Levantino issued an open invitation to Preston residents to check out the amenities.
The 148-person capacity banquet hall can be divided into three sections. On the opposite side of the lobby, a cozier lounge Lisa Levantino called "the library" could hold smaller events.
Congdon welcomed the new venue for more than just the tax revenue it promises to bring to the small town.
"There was not a place in town where a business can come in and rent a room and have a business meeting," Congdon said.
The Levantinos' company Julia Tate Properties LLC owns the hotel. The firm purchased the 5-acre property with a foundation and rear retaining wall already in place from a bank foreclosure of a previously failed hotel project.
The hotel will offer free shuttles to Foxwoods - not yet to Mohegan Sun - and Foxwoods officials have been referring clients to the Levantinos' hotels in the region for several years. As the Bellissimo Grande fills up, reservation clerks there refer clients to the new Hilton Garden. Faxes, text messages and phone calls alert the Hilton Garden that customers are on their way.
Eaton, the general manager, has worked for the Levantinos for 12 years, starting at the Hilltop Inn and Suites in North Stonington.
"I've had the privilege of running the hotel closest to Foxwoods for 12 years," Eaton said. "Different hotels, and we keep getting closer."