The Si Santa Engrassia Gi Kanton Tasi "" St. Grace by the Sea "" one of the oldest wedding chapels on-island will be torn down. A multi-million dollar Spanish-Mediterranean themed wedding complex will be built in its place.

The chapel closed Dec. 10 and will be torn down by the end of January. Reconstruction is scheduled to last until September with the chapel opening for business in October said Manfred H. Pieper general manager of the Hilton Guam Resort and Spa.

The St. Grace was managed by Watabe Guam Inc. which also manages the Hilton’s St. Probus Holy Chapel. However Watabe will not manage the new wedding chapel. "It was decided in conjunction with the owner "" DaVinci RP Operating Lessee Inc. "" to have a new company build the chapel and operate it. The new company Good Luck Corp. which does business as Arluis is based out of Japan."

He said that Watabe’s contract came to an end in 2006 and Hilton wanted to upgrade the St. Grace but Watabe did not. "So the decision was made to bring in a new wedding company which was prepared to make a substantial investment and recreate a totally new chapel rather than just renovating the existing one."

Pieper said "They [Arluis] are doing business in Japan and are probably one of the largest if not the largest wedding companies in Japan. Arluis is a big player in Japan. They have recently decided to go overseas whereas Watabe saw this opportunity many years ago and is probably today holding the largest market share at least for Guam in overseas weddings." He said that Guam is one of the first destinations overseas for Arluis.

In addition to managing the chapel Pieper said that Arluis would also open a wedding salon on the Hilton’s premises where the Dynasty restaurant was located but he could not provide further details about the salon.

In its place will be built a new wedding chapel with two adjacent function rooms. "The trend today is that wedding couples immediately following the ceremony want to have their wedding reception in the room adjacent to the chapel " Pieper said. This service is available at the Hotel Nikko Guam and at Watabe Guam Inc. "We are repeating this here on our premises."

Pieper said the two function rooms would come with a full kitchen. "We [Hilton] will be able to cater to [everything] from light snacks all the way to full four and five course menus."

The new chapel will be located where the St. Grace is but the style will be different. "It is a more Mediterranean/Spanish style which I think I welcome because it will be totally different and fit more within the culture of Guam."

Pieper said that the chapel would be able to accommodate 50 people and the function rooms would each be able to accommodate about 40 people.

It will be slightly larger than the St. Grace. Pieper said that wedding chapels normally don’t have to accommodate parties larger than 50 people. "The average size of overseas weddings from Japan is 12 to 15 people. Very rarely do you have a larger wedding where maybe 30 people are coming out."

The new chapel will be marketed towards the Japanese overseas weddings but Pieper said "Obviously everybody realizes that it has also become fashionable for Hong Kong and Taiwanese couples to come over here as well to get married. The numbers are still small but I think the market is evolving. I think sooner or later we will also see Korean couples. Normally Korea follows the trends established by Japan so wouldn’t be surprised if one day as well we see an interest in Korean overseas weddings."

He said that there were about 11 000 Japanese overseas weddings on Guam which represents about 20% of the Japanese overseas wedding market. All of the overseas weddings comprise about 10% of all the Japanese weddings.

"There is still room for quite a lot of expansion. Many years back most weddings were held in large wedding reception rooms or hotel ballrooms in Japan. The next step was having smaller restaurant weddings where people would rent a restaurant and then have their wedding reception there. The third big trend which started about 10 years ago was the overseas wedding where an even smaller group of people decided to go abroad and save money in doing so." It would be less expensive for the couple to take their guests to a destination like Guam than to pay for a wedding reception for about 200 people.

The chapel’s name was not finalized as of press time. Pieper said Arluis did not disclose how much would be spent on the chapel’s construction but he said it would cost several million. He added that the new chapel falls in line with the Hilton’s recent $15 million renovation. MBJ