Just like everything in life ages, hotels are not exempt from the process. They can become outdated, less relevant and just plain old and worn after years of wear and tear. To stop the aging process, though, hotels continually work to make themselves over through lavish renovations and reconstructions.
After the economy bust, hotels largely halted renovation projects, but the time appears to be now to update, and hotels are starting to take a no-holds-barred approach to improve their looks, technology and event capabilities. We rounded up a sampling in Illinois to give you a taste of trends, fresh ideas and unique touches.
A TRUE CHICAGO EXPERIENCE
For the owners of the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel, it wasn’t enough for the hotel to be in the center of Chicago, guests had to actually feel as though they were still in Wrigleyville, the Loop or near Lake Michigan.
“Our brand is all about living life to discover, and the discovery is always about your locale, so that’s why we’re bringing [more] Chicago into our hotel,” says Hassan El-Neklawy, general manager, of the property’s $22 million renovation that brought about a refresh with a decidedly local focus. “Before the renovation, our hotel design was like any other hotel; you could put the design in New York or San Francisco. Now, it is so unique to Chicago that you cannot take the design and place it in another city. It belongs to Chicago.”
The renovation project, which started in January 2014 and was unveiled in April 2015, not only updated guest rooms and suites, it also upgraded all 34,867 square feet of event space, which in total has the capacity to host 1,106 people across 21 state-of-the-art event rooms and 24 breakout rooms with brand-new lighting and sound system. But the real gem is the lobby, which “completes the entire experience,” says El-Neklawy, and offers a bar where 50 to 70 guests can also meet.
“The lobby is the place you want to be; it’s a good place for a group to go after a meeting to get together and socialize,” he notes.
The lobby evokes the city of Chicago with CTA bus-inspired windows, local artwork— including a unique depiction of a taxi—and wallpaper featuring the “L” map and stadium seating. Along with the stadium seating area, there also is a section called the library, an artist studio and a communal table. The aforementioned bar, a new food market minigrocer and display kitchen round out the offerings in this area, dubbed Staytion.
According to El-Neklawy, the renovation was inspired by a change in ownership in 2013. Though the hotel originally opened in 1991, the new owners felt there was underutilized space and areas for improvement. A second phase, which will upgrade the third floor of the hotel that houses the ballroom and several breakout rooms, will be completed in 2016.
It all follows the trend, says El-Neklawy, of hotels keen to renovate due to the booming economy and the desire to be relevant.
“The economy is in recovery and business is good,” he admits. “For owners, it is definitely a good time to refurnish their hotels. The trend is very positive for the industry, and it’s time to enhance and improve.”
El-Neklawy further notes the renovation makes the hotel more conducive for groups, due to its upgraded spaces and the Chicago feel that guests (both local and out-of-town) will appreciate in the lobby.
“I don’t think there is a lobby like it,” he says. “There is so much energy, and it’s very engaging and inspirational. There is a lot to see and do and a lot to discover, which our brand is all about.”
The $6 million renovation at Harrah’s Joliet Hotel & Casino started as a way to make the hotel feel more comfortable and also sync it with today’s technology—something that the property hopes will attract groups.
“It was time to bring the hotel up to date, as it was far behind with the technology offerings. [The renovations] allow us to sell our hotel as an option for business groups that are in need of hosting an event in our banquet rooms,” says Darren VanDover, general manager. Some of the enhancements include upgraded Wi-Fi service, wall-mounted flat-screen TVs in the lobby and in rooms with HD capabilities and digital signage. “We also have a great product for wedding groups due to our location and all of the new furniture updates,” VanDover says.
Six million dollars in renovations to the hotel, which features more than 6,000 square feet of meeting space for a capacity of 325 guests, began in 2013 and went through most of 2014.
Improvements included facelifts to the guest rooms that now feature new carpet, televisions and furniture. The lobby was also updated with new furniture and a fireplace. The on-site casino was renovated as well to hold new gaming machines, carpet, tables and more.
Like the hotel’s technology, the restaurant also received a major change with a rebrand. “The restaurant needed a new concept due to the lack of interest in the food offerings,” admits VanDover. It’s now called Flavors of the Buffet, and it features expanded food options such as Asian selections, a carving station, made-fromscratch pizza area, Brazilian BBQ and a 40-foot dessert station with homemade gelato.
Harrah’s updates fall in line with hotel renovations across the country, according to VanDover.
“Adding technology to the rooms is a theme that we have noticed, which is why we are in the process of upgrading our Wi-Fi offerings to include options for faster service,” he says. “We want our business travelers, groups and casino customers alike to enjoy the comforts of home when they stay with us, and fast Internet service is one of those comforts.”
Satisfaction with the renovations is already apparent: “Our guests take notice and have had nothing but great comments about all of the renovations,” says VanDover.
Like the Renaissance Chicago Downtown, designers for InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile’s recent renovation drew inspiration from Chicago—specifically Michigan Avenue.
“The renovations were inspired by our desire to offer guests the best stay at our property. The rooms were beautiful but needed a modern touch,” says Raymond Vermolen, general manager. “With so many new properties coming to the city, we wanted InterContinental Chicago to continue to be a top choice for visitors [and groups],” which is a valid concern for a number of the more gilded properties to remain competitive.
The hotel’s three-part, $25 million renovation spanned from 2013-2015 and finally finished in March of this year. Each update began in early January—the low-travel season—so as not to disrupt guests. The renovations focused on the rooms and corridors of both towers comprising the hotel. The Grand Tower started renovations in 2013, followed by the Executive Tower (previously named the Historic Tower) in 2014 and 2015.
The Executive Tower also offered one of the most unique parts of the overhaul with updates to its Presidential Suite—a 1,700-square-foot, two-story living space with floor-to-ceiling windows of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. The entire two floors (and five rooms) were redone to focus on its impeccable view of the Chicago River, Tribune Tower and Michigan Avenue. Included in the new look is a new color scheme, updated lighting and high-end leather furniture as well as handtufted rugs, all custom designed.
For all the updates, the hotel strived to use local designers and furniture and created a comfortable, home-away-from-home stay for guests.
“The hotel is better equipped now to sell to groups because it offers modern amenities,” says Vermolen. “We have over 45,000 square feet of meeting space in 28 different rooms, so we can tailor any of these spaces to create the perfect group environment.”
The InterContinental looked to create a modern, updated feel, which Vermolen believes other hotels are increasingly doing to remain memorable.
“Many hotels have been renovating to offer the best possible features for guests,” he says. “Many of today’s travelers are drawn to the top amenities and a fresh, modern look, so many hotels want to offer these qualities.”
A WALK IN THE PARK
Knowing the reality of Chicago winters (and all the difficulties that come with it), Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel rightly began renovations in mid-April this year. The multimilliondollar updates were completed in July.
Per the design, guests should feel as though they are taking a walk in the park—specifically Grant Park.
“While the renovations have a utilitarian purpose, the focus of the project was to bring downtown Chicago to our guests, which is primarily being executed through the design and use of the art in the space,” says Paul Ohm, general manager. With the new look, executed by Simeone Deary, guests of the suburban hotel in Rosemont, just five minutes from O’Hare International Airport, can still feel they are within city limits.
The 556-room hotel has more than 53,000 square feet of event space across four grand ballrooms and 34 meeting rooms. Three restaurants and a music venue are also available for rent. The latest renovations included revamps to the lobby and the front drive. The lobby will be especially enticing to planners, with a media wall that groups can use for marketing opportunities and a lobby design that gives them an impromptu meeting place. An added bonus: Guests can order a drink immediately after entering the lobby—perfect for unwinding.
For its part, the front drive facelift allows for a more appeasing entrance with a new porte-cochere, valet stand and updates to the landscape and building exterior.
“With the redesign, we can now really set ourselves up to create a sense of arrival for our groups,” says Kerry Schlaack, director of sales and marketing. “We are now better equipped to make that welcome moment from the second they step on the property.”
Like the other sources, Ohm also credits the improved economy as a catalyst to the increased number of hotel renovations he’s been seeing.
“Broadly speaking, the industry as a whole was holding off on the costly investment of renovating until the economy picked back up,” says Ohm. “From a Loews perspective, the time was right for us, as we have been striving to create the best possible experience for guests since we took over the hotel in the summer of 2014.”
BREATHING NEW LIFE
Two Kimpton hotels in downtown Chicago also went through renovations over the course of 2014 into the beginning of this year.
Hotel Allegro finished most recently, completing its renovations in June after starting in early 2014. The $15 million project included two phases. Phase One updated two event spaces, the Crescendo and Savoy, and facilitated a refresh to the guest room bathrooms. Phase Two began in January and renovated all the guest rooms, public spaces, a meeting space on the first floor and the lobby, which now has a new bar.
“The focus of this renovation was to enhance our guest experience,” says Mary PerinoFleming, general manager. “We saw an opportunity to improve our curb appeal and public spaces, making it more inviting for our guests.”
The meeting room enhancements added 1,250 square feet of space with the addition of the Palladium Function space. The total is now 14,000 square feet and can hold up to 400 guests.
“This space is unique to other offerings in the hotel and is very flexible in terms of what types of events we can host,” she says.
A new bar, Bar Allegro is also an ideal place for groups. It’s an addition to the existing Living Room, which allows guests to relax and enjoy a martini and a light menu after a day of meetings.
With so many renovations around the city, Hotel Allegro updated to stay in touch with the ever-changing industry. “We started noticing trends in the market, and we felt that this was the perfect time to evolve our amenities and offerings,” says Fleming.
Hotel Burnham in downtown Chicago, another Kimpton property, completed its $4.1 million refresh this past spring and also featured two phases. One witnessed a more modern take to the hotel’s Parisian restaurant, Atwood, and the other updated the guest rooms.
“The renovation was inspired by the need to breathe new life into our historic landmark home, while making sure to preserve the integrity of the Reliance Building,” the historic property where it lives, says Tonya Scott, general manager. “We also wanted to stay relevant with the up-and-coming hotels that are entering the market and Chicago Loop area.”
The hotel’s meeting room—The Reliance Room—was specifically updated to be more inviting to more intimate groups. It has 444 square feet and a capacity of 40.
“Hotels are renovating more and more to stay current with the ever-changing trends in the hospitality industry,” affirms Scott. “In order to stay relevant in the market, amenities have to be up to date to compete with the growing number of hotels that are renovating [and opening]. We want to wow the guests and keep them coming back.”
HISTORIC INTO HOTEL
Another renovation trend is hard to miss in Chicago—recycling existing, historic buildings into luxurious hotels.
» LONDON GUARANTEE & ACCIDENT BUILDING
This Michigan Avenue grand dame was erected in 1923 and designed by famed Chicago architect Alfred S. Alschuler. Oxford Capital Group bought the property and christened it LondonHouse Hotel. It is slated to open in spring of 2016 and will feature about 25,000 square feet of meeting space.
» CHICAGO MOTOR CLUB BUILDING
Unoccupied since 2004, the stunning Art Deco building has been transformed into the Hampton Inn Chicago Michigan Avenue. The hotel, which officially opened its doors in May, hearkens back to its Roaring Twenties roots with a bar reminiscent of the time period and original décor pieces. Planners will enjoy the 5,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
» FRANK CHASE OFFICE BUILDING
The first Hyatt Centric property to open in the world is housed in this 1927 building that started welcoming visitors in April. The 257-room Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago boasts more than 2,500 square feet of event space.
» CHICAGO ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
Built in the 1890s this building closed in the mid-2000s and has been ignored for years, but opened this past spring as an elegant boutique hotel with the same name. The building is best known for its façade, which was constructed to resemble the Doges Palace in Venice and features 17,000 square feet of event space. Bonus: It’s the spot of Chicago’s second Shake Shack.