|By Anita Szoke, Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 18, 2006 - -PEORIA -- Carnegie's Restaurant and the Rendezvous lounge have a noticeably new look as part of the Hotel Pere Marquette's multi-million dollar makeover.
The owners of the historic hotel, Innco Hospitality Inc., which is an extension of Transamerican Investment Properties, so far have invested $6 million to upgrade guestrooms, revamp the restaurant and bar and restore other areas to their original grandeur. Another $6 million will be spent once business improves from the current renovations, said hotel Vice President Don Welch.
Carnegie's has received the most dramatic change. Gone are the heavy drapes, dark colors and admittedly "stuffy" atmosphere, Welch said. The restaurant, which re-opened last week after a 90-day construction period, is now more open, airy and much more casual.
"It's kind of an understated elegance," Welch said.
It also has a new name: Carnegie's 501. The 501 refers to its address at 501 Main St.
The renovations are necessary to keep the hotel a vibrant part of the community and to compete in a more demanding marketplace, Welch said.
"It's to revitalize the Hotel Pere Marquette. It is to build our business in Peoria and also to help support the activities that will come with the expansion of the Peoria Civic Center and the efforts of the Convention and Visitors Bureau."
Built in 1927, the Hotel Pere Marquette is Peoria's oldest hotel. Over time, its original opulence became deteriorated and the building was sorely in need of renovations.
But then came Sept. 11, 2001. One fallout of the terrorist attack in New York was a severely curtailed national hotel and travel industry, Welch said.
With fewer travelers staying in hotels, the hotel industry was hard pressed to convince lenders to invest in large remodeling projects, he said.
"After 9-11, banks really looked at hotels in about the same light as a leaking nuclear power plant," he said. "When 9-11 happened, the travel industry really dropped down, and about that time, we were due for a renovation. The hotel had become very run down. Business really fell off at that point in time." The hotel also tried unsuccessfully to work with the city for some public support.
But the hospitality industry has bounced back and banks are now more agreeable to financing renovation projects, Welch said. Also, Caterpillar Inc. was instrumental in the Pere revamp by making a commitment to the hotel and the 10th floor, which helped convince lenders to take the risk, he said.
The Pere's owners announced in May 2005 that five Peoria-area banks and the Illinois Development Finance Authority teamed up to lend money to finance the hotel's $6 million renovation. The banks and the IDFA each lent $1 million to Transamerican Properties LLC for the project.
Caterpillar contributed to the work and will have priority, but not exclusive, use of the 10th floor of the 12-story hotel for 10 years for its executive visitors. The manufacturer also paid for a new high-definition flat-screen television in all 30 rooms on the 10th floor, Welch said.
Every room in the hotel has new furniture and new beds, with pillow top mattresses. The old, heavy bedspreads and dark drapes are gone, replaced with lighter, more modern styles and colors. A desk and chair are now in every room instead of a round table with four chairs.
"We're really more of a business traveler's hotel," he said.
All bathrooms got a makeover, with new tiled floors, refurbished tubs and surrounds, new paint and wallpaper, with the decor designed to appeal to a large number of people since the hotel has a varied clientele, Welch said.
For 10th floor guests, one room was transformed into a concierge lounge with amenities such as a light European breakfast in the morning and cocktails in the evenin.
The hotel's lobby and ballrooms were renovated, with a local decorator artfully recreating the 1920s look and feel. The old gift shop was made into a business center.
Other changes to the hotel include a new high-capacity, fast-recovery domestic hot water system; revamped boilers with new controls, burners and turbulators; and a renovated air-handling equipment for air conditioning to regulate temperature better.
Carnegie's: A new look Carnegie's Restaurant was closed for three months while renovations took place. During that time, meals were served at the hotel's American Cafe, which now is closed and will be transformed into the hotel's new Executive Club.
The Executive Club will cater to business travelers, with a country club atmosphere, flat screen TV and cooked-to-order breakfasts. Although the Executive Club, which is free to join, is designed for frequent out-of-town guests, hotel officials are contemplating opening the club to locals for a membership fee.
Stepping into Carnegie's, a visitor first notices its more open feel and brighter colors. "Carnegie's basically is a whole new restaurant," Welch said.
The restaurant has doubled in size with a portion of the old Rendezvous bar becoming a part of Carnegie's.
"Our goal for Carnegie's is twofold: It's first and foremost for the hotel guest, accessible for the hotel guests for breakfast, lunch and dinners, to try to keep the guest in the hotel," he said. "Secondly, and very importantly, it's for the community."
The old Carnegie's only was open for dinner. The new restaurant now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and has a new menu featuring American cuisine such as steaks, chops, burgers, sandwiches and lunch salads and buffet breakfast.
Service is designed to be quicker, too, Welch said, so customers can grab a quick lunch and head back to work or a quicker dinner before a game or concert. At the old Carnegie's, customers often spent 2 hours with dinner, making it difficult for them to run to a Bradley game or symphony, he said.
"The old Carnegie's was a special event type of restaurant; it was elegant fine dining," Welch said. "Unfortunately, people only have one anniversary a year or one birthday a year. It wasn't the kind of restaurant where someone would say on any given Tuesday night, 'Let's go to Carnegie's for dinner.'
"It was also somewhat hidden, unless you really knew it was there," Welch said. "Hotel guests would walk right past it, or if they did see it there, they would look in and say, 'Oh that's a little bit too stuffy for me.' So we made it much more casual."
Some booths were kept, but the upholstery was changed to lighter colors. The carpet and decor also were changed to reflect the more casual atmosphere. But Table 19, which became a popular spot for marriage proposals and other special events, remains.
Carnegie's is providing a free hot breakfast for every hotel guest. "We're the only downstate full-service convention hotel to do that," Welch said.
At the Rendezvous, which re-opened in January, there's new carpeting, wall covering and leather chairs. Food now is available there, serving as overflow space for the restaurant. New granite countertops grace the bar and blue neon lighting adds a swanky feel to the place, Welch said.
So far, response from the public toward all of the changes has been positive, said hotel General Manager Bill Carter.
"It's been great," he said. "We're very pleased so far. We have a little ways to go but we're real close."
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