NORWALK — In a lightning renovation that began only a few months ago, the LaKota Oaks conference center in West Norwalk has gotten fresh guest rooms and meeting spaces, including a large set of windows bringing natural light into its main conference room where Gov. Ned Lamont spoke this week to members of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce.
LaKota Oaks was acquired last year by a New York investor in a deal orchestrated by Lakota Hotels & Resorts, whose CEO Sam D. Haigh is a Norwalk resident who previously ran the rival Doral Arrowwood conference center in Rye Brook, N.Y., across the Greenwich line.
Built on a rolling, 66-acre property off Weed Avenue that was once home to a seminary, the facility was built originally by GTE for use as its own corporate conference center. Since coming under new ownership, LaKota Oaks has been averaging about 10 events a week, to include business meetings as well as social events such as weddings.
The founding team includes his son, Sam L. Haigh who heads operations, and Danny Dolce and his father Andy Dolce, who created 15 years ago the Dolce Norwalk conference center that was sold to a Los Angeles firm and run by Wyndham Worldwide.
“We put a plan together for the renovations and … got that done,” the junior Haigh told Hearst Connecticut Media. “We have a brand-new product.”
After undertaking small touches in its first months running the property — for instance, stringing holiday lights on an evergreen in a field near the LaKota Oaks entrance drive — the new ownership group’s first major order of business has been a reimagining of the center’s 120-plus guest rooms, which now feature brighter colors, and its 22 meeting rooms.
A fitness center has been moved to the residential wing that was previously housed in an outbuilding where the center’s pool and gymnasium remain. And in the coming days, a chandelier with intricate golden leaves will go aloft in the vaulted lobby, replacing a dated fixture that resembles a dark lampshade.
The vision of Anne Bavier, owner of Bavier Design in Norwalk, the renovations are the first major update for the conference center in more than a decade, according to Christine Imbrogno. A resident of Darien, Imbrogno was named this month as director of sales and marketing for LaKota Oaks, having worked for Dolce Norwalk earlier in her career and Doral Arrowwood in the interim.
Imbrogno said she has never seen a project completed at the pace set by LaKota Hotels & Resorts for its namesake conference center.
“Not a lot of hotels and conference centers in the market were putting a lot of money into their product,” Imbrogno said. “The guest rooms were last renovated in 2009. … It was due.”
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman