Downtown San Antonio hotel goes from closed to largest evacuee shelter in less than a day

Grand Hyatt had been closed for months. Now, it has more than 800 rooms for evacuees

San Antonio – It was only a matter of hours before the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Antonio switched from a closed hotel to accepting the largest number of evacuees from Hurricane Laura on Wednesday.

“‘A scramble’ would be an understatement,” Grand Hyatt Area Vice-President and general manager Philip Stamm said of the turnaround.

As of Thursday afternoon, Stamm estimated the Grand Hyatt had about 2,500 to 3,000 people lodged in more than 800 rooms contracted by the city. Just the previous morning, though, the hotel had been closed.

The Grand Hyatt suspended operations “at the end of March, beginning of April” amid the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Stamm said. The hotel had planned to reopen Sep. 1.

The city called hotel officials on Wednesday to see if the Grand Hyatt may be able to open up a little sooner.

“I believe that our first contact was sometime [Wednesday] morning, and it wasn’t until almost three o’clock [Wednesday] afternoon that we finally said what we could do. We’re ready to do it,” Stamm said. “We had a mutual understanding with the city, and come six o’clock, we’re welcoming busses of folks.”

Stamm said that gave them just a few hours to get staff in to check rooms and be ready to welcome the evacuees.

“Everybody chipped in. I mean, there wasn’t a person here that wasn’t doing 10 jobs,” he said.

While Stamm initially said, “a little more than 800 rooms came in last night,” a Grand Hyatt spokeswoman later clarified to KSAT that the hotel had first been contracted for 730 rooms but was now filling up an additional 100 beyond that.

RELATED: Evacuees fleeing Hurricane Laura begin to arrive in San Antonio

That puts the hotel’s capacity at about 80% -- “a shot in the arm of occupancy,” as Stamm put it -- and a much larger return to business than expected.

“It’s really more about taking care of the community than making a buck right now,” Stamm said. “But by all means, it puts us at 100 miles an hour from zero, instead of 20, 30, 40 miles an hour.”

As of Thursday evening, San Antonio Fire Department spokesman Joe Arrington said more than 4,600 people had passed through SAFD’s processing center at Gembler Road. They were lodged in more than 1,800 hotel rooms in eight hotels.

Though the hurricane has passed, the number of evacuees could still grow. The processing center will remain open until evacuation orders have been lifted, Arrington said.

An unknown number of other evacuees may have set up their own accommodations without going through the processing center for a free room.

Stamm said the Grand Hyatt is prepared for evacuees to stay five nights, though he said it could end up being longer.

The evacuees KSAT spoke with on Thursday at the Grand Hyatt did not yet know when they might return home.

“It’s sunny today right now out there,” said Jalisha Thomas, who evacuated from Port Arthur. “My cousin just called me. But then, we got like four days of rain for the next few days. So we gonna really just see.”

Tameka Williams evacuated Beaumont on a bus and hadn’t heard when she could go back.

“I’m hoping we gonna hear soon,” Williams said. “But from the looks of it, don’t seem like we are going nowhere ’cus they say it’s not over with yet.”

RELATED: There are more than 4,000 hurricane evacuees in San Antonio, SAFD says

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.