The Fairmount Hotel: Press Release
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Restoring The Pride
Robert D. Tips Plans To Re-Make The Fairmount
His Vision Includes World-Class Renovation Of Historic Downtown Hotel
-- Robert D. Tips, owner, The Fairmount
San Antonio, TX (November 2004) - Robert D. Tips watched the dazzling fireworks display light up the downtown San Antonio sky from a second floor porch of The Fairmount. It was New Year's Eve 2001, and the businessman who built a corporate empire on a family-owned chain of funeral homes and cemeteries was about to make a fateful decision.
I should buy this hotel, he thought to himself.
I should restore the pride and beauty of this extraordinary place.
And I should make it my home.
Less than three years later, Tips is well on his way to making those lofty goals a reality. Tips purchased The Fairmount from Wyndham Hotels and Resorts in June 2004. A multimillion-dollar makeover is in the works to remake the historic downtown landmark into a one-of-a-kind, world-class small luxury hotel.
"We're not just going to think outside the box, we're going to build a new box. We're going to create the standards that other hotels should want to live up to," Tips said. "I want The Fairmount to feel like home."
Restoring a Historic Landmark in the Heart of San Antonio
On the surface, it may seem like a maverick move for Tips. He started working in the family business, Mission Parks Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries, at the age of nine, sweeping floors and mowing cemetery lawns through his childhood.
In 1984, he bought the business from his father and uncle. In two decades, Tips expanded Mission Parks, which was in his family for five generations, from two sites to 27 locations in San Antonio and Houston.
Why would an executive who is still building an incredibly successful funeral home and cemetery business purchase the city's most famous hotel? For Tips, the decision was partly motivated by a newfound love of downtown San Antonio, and by a pragmatic business sense that recognized synergistic opportunities for expanding his empire.
His formula for success? One part humility, one part personality and one part this philosophy: Going the extra mile to give people great service is the ingredient no one forgets.
Discovering Downtown Pride
A Thanksgiving Day fire in 2001 destroyed Tips sprawling home on a miniature horse ranch in the northernmost fringes of San Antonio. The blaze, sparked by an electrical short in an icemaker, left Tips looking for a place to call home for the holidays.
He found himself living at the Westin Hotel in downtown San Antonio. Although he had been raised in Alamo Heights, Tips had never spent much time on the River Walk, at HemisFair Plaza or riding the trolleys downtown. That all changed over the course of nearly seven months, during which Tips was proud to call downtown home.
"I gained a whole new insight into our city. I spent every night at a different restaurant or club. I walked into every hotel to eat at their restaurants. I gained 50 pounds," he recalled with a laugh.
"San Antonio, like any other city has these bubbles, and we get into these bubbles and we don't get out. When I was living downtown, it became my new bubble. It was my neighborhood, and it was the best thing in the world."
So when Tips walked into The Fairmount for a New Year's Eve party in 2001, he felt a certain responsibility and ownership as a native San Antonian. He was dismayed to see The Fairmount - which holds a world record as the heaviest building ever moved, 3.2 million pounds over six days) - was losing its luster.
Although it still had much of its Victorian charm, the nearly century-old hotel was showing signs of age and wear that Tips believed were the result of negligent ownership and management that did not call San Antonio home.
"This place is so tied into San Antonio's history and heritage, and it was a shame what was happening here," Tips recalled. "It needed people who care about the city."
"It's The Dash In The Middle That Counts "
For Tips, the decision to purchase The Fairmount is more than just a matter of community pride. He sees limitless potential for growing his other businesses, such as MTM Life Insurance, which sells estate planning and pre-planned funeral packages.
The plan goes something like this: Tips will woo funeral directors from all across Texas, sending a private airplane (courtesy of another one of his companies, Aviation AirStar) to whisk them to San Antonio. Wedding white limousines (courtesy of Mission Parks) will pick them up and take them to The Fairmount for their complimentary weekend stay, which will include food and beverages on the enchanting Paseo del Rio. An Aviation AirStar helicopter will give them a bird's-eye view of the Alamo City, possibly with Tips at the controls; he earned his pilot's license in the mid 1970s.
All the while, Tips will be working to convince his special guests to switch their insurance business to MTM Life Insurance. The potential benefit of growing a local insurance agency while restoring a piece of downtown history makes the purchase of The Fairmount and its luxurious renovation a strategic investment.
And there are other tie-ins that Tips envisions. The pre-planned funeral packages that he offers soon will include a free weekend stay at The Fairmount.
"No one wants to talk about it, but death and taxes are a fact of life," Tips said. "We think funeral planning should be part of the celebration of your life. When you walk through a cemetery and you see the headstones with the dates on them, it's the dash in the middle that counts -- that stands for the life those people lived.""I'm still building my dash, and I want to help other people to build theirs, too."
Common Ground/Familiar Faces
That doesn't mean that The Fairmount will be exclusively used for Mission Parks business interests. Tips says the customer service aspect of both enterprises make his ownership a natural fit.
"The funeral business and hotel business have a lot in common," said Tips, whose colorful and enigmatic personality blends well with his pleasant, soothing deep voice and easygoing smile. "Mission Parks never closes. We're open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round. And we must be very good in dealing with people."
They are the same qualities that Tips expects from his hotel staff. To help him get there, Tips has hired a familiar name to manage The Fairmount - The Lancaster Group. The Houston-based company specializes in the development, repositioning, and management of small luxury hotels, and it had previously managed the hotel before it was sold to Wyndham. Like his staff at Mission Park, employees at The Fairmount will share in the hotel's profits.
Tips vision for The Fairmount is one of European opulence. Each of the 37 rooms will be unique, lavishly furnished with antiques and intricate designs on the walls, draperies and tile. Some of the rich details that guests will enjoy discovering in each room include an $8,000 hotel room door and $650/square foot Italian tile. Husband-and-wife designers Val and Susan Dunis of San Antonio have been charged with bringing his vision to life.
Replacing the room numbers will be concept names influenced by each room's individual design, such as the Gold Suite, the Monet Suite and the Rey Feo Suite. The last name is a nod to the owner's participation in the city's annual 10-day Fiesta activities. Tips is this year's "Rey Feo," a title he earned by raising thousands of dollars in scholarships for the League of United Latin American Citizens.
And if he has his way, Tips will one day add on to the three-story structure and build his home atop The Fairmount.
"This place feels like home, and that's how I want guests to experience it," Tips said. "The best way to do that is to make part of it a real home. I want them to come in and feel like they're staying at one of the finest homes on the planet, because they will be."