By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – The phones weren’t working early Monday afternoon and storms knocked out electricity later in the evening.
But that didn’t dampen the spirits at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Tupelo, which welcomed its first customer after an unexpected haitus.
“It’s good to be back,” said manager Scott Suenaga. “It’s been a long six weeks.”
The 93-room Courtyard, located on the area of North Gloster Street which was hard-bit by the April 28 tornado, didn’t suffer any structural damage from the storm.
But the central portion of the building took plenty of wind and water damage as the tornado tore the huge marquee off the building and ripped away parts of the roof, allowing the subsequent downpour to worsen the damage.
Keneshia Shields was working the day the tornado hit. She was inspecting rooms on one of the upper floors when she and another co-worker wisely decided to run downstairs where everyone was gathered.
“They were in the hallway, some were in the men’s and women’s restrooms. … We were all trying to say safe,” she said.
“I’d never heard anything like it – it was like the building was getting beaten up.”
Now that a month and a half has passed, she’s glad to put those memories behind her and to get the hotel back in business.
And the approximately 30 employees of the hotel did their part to get the hotel reopened.
“At first we were outside doing cleanup, then we moved inside,” said Angela Byars, the hotel’s front office manager who’s been at the property since 2006. Separate construction crews took care of building reconstruction.
Guests who couldn’t check into the Courtyard because of the work weren’t without options, however.
“We were able to send them to our sister property, the Fairfield Inn & Suites,” said Chelsey Rodgers.
But that’s not necessary now.
At the Courtyard on Monday, it was a better-than-expected turnout of hotel guests, considering the property still doesn’t have a sign and it has few lights in the parking lot and driveway.
“We did all right, considering it’s kind of hard to see us, and unless you know what a Courtyard looks like, you could drive past,” said Suenaga said. “But we’re looking strong for reservations tonight and we’re getting more looking ahead.”
Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, said getting back Courtyard’s rooms was important.
“First, you’ve got people who are going back to work, and now you have those rooms back in the inventory that we haven’t had in six weeks,” he said.
Two other hotels, the Comfort Suites and Sleep Inn, are all but totaled and must be rebuilt, but there’s no word on when that might happen.
McCoy said having the Courtyard back is good timing, as Tupelo is set to host a state baseball tournament next week, with up to 70 teams participating. About 40-50 teams will be taking overnight stays during the four-day tournament.
And Kimberly Crump, the bistro manager at the Courtyard, is ready to welcome them and everyone else with open arms.
“I’m thankful that we’re open and that we’re able to get our six people back to work,” she said. “They were ready to come back. It’s good to be back after all this.”