Jill West has worked on construction projects from Hawaii to Boston to Florida, and a litany of locations in between. The director of design and construction hospitality for Denver-based real estate company McWhinney sums up her decades of experience in hospitality as succinctly as one would expect from a farm girl from rural Colorado. “I do whatever it takes, and I get it done,” West says. That has meant stretching her job title far past what many would ever expect from the role.
West has been on the floor installing furniture right alongside the rest of her team in order to meet the deadlines she adheres to like gospel. “If there ever comes a time when I need to grab a paintbrush or a hammer—for everybody’s sake let’s hope we don’t get to that point—but I will be right there. I don’t look at my team as hierarchical. I just want the team to be successful for everyone involved,” West explains. “When we’re finished, I want to high five and have a drink with my team. That’s what we’re all working toward.”
West’s most challenging year to date, by her own admission, was 2020. The often-airborne director saw two massive projects, a Hyatt Place in Boston and a Hyatt Centric in downtown Austin, Texas, suddenly brought to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic. With children aged 9 and 11 years at home in need of both a mother and a schoolteacher, West says she made it out of this year with more gray hairs than she planned on but intact and ready for anything. West learned about patience more than she ever had to before in 2020, but she also learned that in spite of it all, she was still Jill West. She still got it done.
The Hyatt Place in Boston’s Seaport District was West’s first new build hotel on the East Coast. The neighborhood that was all but an industrial wasteland just a few years prior is now home to a 12-story, 297-room building that she says, with a small hint of pride, has been referred to by more than a few stakeholders as the most beautiful Hyatt Place ever built.
The project was scheduled for completion in May 2020, but the COVID pandemic pushed back the opening, not by years, but by months. Even a gas strike in Boston didn’t roll the project into 2021, despite the need for temporary weather restrictions onsite throughout two consecutively brutal winters.
The other hiccup required even more adept adaptation than climate control. Hyatt’s new prototype room package was introduced right in the middle of construction. “It rolled out right when we were getting ready to order our furniture package,” West says. “The brand hadn’t even officially released it yet, but we were still able to capture some of the new design and marry it with the existing model.”
When the hotel opened its doors in September 2020, it was a bittersweet day for West. “These projects are always my babies,” West admits. “I go from being onsite fairly often to not having been back to Boston since it opened.” And despite overcoming so many odds, West didn’t feel the usual rush of a completed project because, for the most part, much of the world still remained closed due to the pandemic.
The coronavirus slowdown also touched the capital of Texas, where West says downtown Austin is feeling the economic sting of prolonged absence as hard as anywhere. But her team has been able to maintain its work the entire time while abiding by all COVID-related protocols.
The Hyatt Centric at 8th and Congress Ave. in downtown Austin will be West’s tallest building to date at 31 stories and 246 rooms, or “keys,” as West puts it. Guests will take an elevator up to the eighth floor to check in and the hotel will also feature a rooftop deck on that same level.
West and her team have had to work in tandem with a third-party food and beverage operator, who will run the restaurant on the ground floor and food and beverage operations for the hotel, as well as a third-party hotel operator and the Austin Theater Association next door, which will be officing out of McWhinney’s building. The multiple additional stakeholders haven’t stalled progress, and the hotel currently has plans for opening its doors to guests in Q1 2022.
West says she has chosen to stay in hospitality and construction for her career because, quite simply, she loves it. And though she may have been one of the few women on the job, the director says those numbers continue to go up in encouraging ways. She has advice for anyone looking to enter the construction world. “Intern and ask to get onsite,” West says. “I’ve found with project management that people either love it instantly or they don’t. So, go for it. Don’t let the idea that this may have traditionally been a ‘man’s industry’ discourage you. I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong here, and you shouldn’t either.”