The Urbana Landmark Hotel has a long history in this area, 94 years of history to be exact. In recent history, it's been sitting empty in the heart of Downtown Urbana, waiting for an opportunity for revitalization. It appears that opportunity may be on the horizon. Dionis Rodriguez, of Crimson Rock Capital hotel investment firm, and Bill Walsh, project manager, have set their sights on the vacant property. They are looking to partner with Hilton to transform this historic hotel into a Hilton Tapestry property. Tapestry is a new division of the Hilton empire that blends the Hilton brand with unique hotels to create an original hotel experience.
I sat down with Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Walsh in the lobby of the Landmark to learn more about their plans. My first question, and according to Mr. Walsh the question that they’ve been asked most often, was why Urbana, and why this property. Rodriguez answered quite simply: “We like college towns, we like downtown properties, and more specifically we fell in love with the hotel…it’s character, it’s beauty, and its history.” He went on to describe the potential they feel the hotel's proximity to the University of Illinois creates. Also the Tapestry Collection is designed for smaller markets such as Champaign-Urbana, rather than major metropolitan areas.
This division of Hilton is quite new. In fact, there are no Tapestry hotels in existence currently. When asked what would set these Hilton properties apart from those that we are already familiar with, Rodriguez explained that the concept creates “lifestyle properties”, or hotels that cater to those guests looking for a more unique experience than a just a place to stay. He said the great thing about Tapestry is that “you get to plug into the Hilton system, and bring Hilton customers here, but also have the ability to keep the hotel independent and have its own character and identity.”
Mr. Walsh spoke about the vision for the renovation of this historic location. He would be working closely with a State Historical Preservation Officer, with the aim of incurring a historic tax credit. The SHPO would have the final say in what elements of the property must be maintained for it to remain a historical site. The exterior would be repaired, but the overall appearance would remain the same. He would like to work with the existing interior structures to transform the property into a brighter, more modern space with new furnishings, and is especially interested in creating a new entrance that is “light, inviting, modern, and tells the public something significant has happened here… and that lets the building shine through.”
They estimate that they planning phase would take approximately 12 months, as would the construction itself. What happens next? That’s up to the Urbana City Council, who heard the team’s proposal in a meeting Monday night. The project will require the City of Urbana to kick in $9.5 million in bonds. With the go ahead from the city, Rodriguez and Walsh are ready to hit the ground running and put a development deal into motion.
Could this deal be what Urbana needs to give its downtown a boost? We can only wait and see.