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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 10, 2016

Cheryl-Anne SturkenLobby of the Hilton Cleveland DowntownWhen the 600-room, 32-story Hilton Cleveland Downtown opened its doors this past June, general manager Teri Agosta and her team of close to 400 -- 200 of whom had never worked in a hotel before -- had no time to spend on a long learning curve. They were staring down three major back-to-back, full-house events that would test the nerves of even the most seasoned of hotel executives.

Five days after opening, the hotel found itself sold out as 1.3 million basketball fans descended on the city to celebrate the winning of the 2016 NBA Championship by their home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The festivities included a city-hosted parade and rally that went right past the new downtown property's lobby doors, forcing a guest-access-only soft lockdown and a fast lesson on the importance of security.

"There were a few bumps, but we got it worked out, found our rhythm, and that gave us a lot of confidence," says Agosta. A mere two weeks later, the hotel, which has 50,000 square feet of function space and is connected to the city's Huntington Convention Center, was once again bursting at the seams, this time with high-level convention-goers in town for the Republican National Convention. But Agosta, a veteran hotelier who was tapped by management to make the move from Phoenix to Cleveland to get their newcomer up and running, was not fazed. "We had all the top representatives among the delegates and Senate, and we were ready for them," she says. "We knew now exactly how long it took to make an omelet on our induction stoves, and where all the blind spots were in the ballroom."

As if that weren't enough excitement for this debutant property, less than 24 hours after the convention wrapped up and attendees had checked out, the hotel began welcoming its third, and arguably most demanding, event, Hilton Worldwide's Annual Conference. Hosting rabid basketball fans and demanding conventioneers was definitely challenging, but a house full of several hundred top company executives, who all knew what a well-run hotel should feel like? "It was nerve-wracking, but we had cut our teeth, and we were proud as a peacock to show them what we could do," says Agosta. "They were trying on the hotel, and now they are going to go back and sell it to their clients. I think about 90 percent of them had never even been to Cleveland before, and they were very impressed by the city."

Agosta says she had heard all of the horror stories about Cleveland before relocating, and she believes the city has gotten a bad rap. One of her biggest surprises? "The sheer beauty of the city's lakefront," she notes. "It's truly a city on the rebound. And all those enhancements Cleveland did to host the RNC, like improving roads and pubic places, and increased bandwidth -- we get to keep all that stuff going forward, which will really propel us as a destination."