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A $382 million Renovation at the Century Old French Lick Springs
 Resort Beginning to Show the Grandeur the Hotel Once Knew

By Laura Lane, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

July 6, 2006 - --FRENCH LICK -- Card dealer training classes are two weeks away, 1,500 construction workers are on site, conventions are being booked and furniture is appearing in rooms as the French Lick Springs Resort & Casino gears up for its November opening.

A $382 million renovation at the century-old resort hotel has taken on a life of its own.

And the grandeur the hotel knew in the 1920s is showing itself from floor to ceiling.

Last week, Bulgarian native and artist Stoytcho Stoykov delivered to the hotel six giant canvas murals he spent months painting. He brought them from Wisconsin, where he works for Conrad Schmitt Studios, which is responsible for much of the interior restoration work.

The Baroque-style murals are on the ceiling of the mezzanine level of the hotel, and are visible by just looking up from the lobby.

In keeping with the area's fame for producing mineral-laced Pluto Water 100 years ago, the murals depict the mythological story of Pluto's World.

A single mural over the main lobby shows Orpheus and Eurydice, symbols of love, in a springtime setting. Others show the River Styx, Pluto on his sulfur throne, Cerberus the three-headed dog, and Persephone and her mother, goddess of nature Demeter.

Adina Cloud, senior sales manager for the hotel, said the installation of the murals is one indication that the transformation is on schedule. Another sign is housekeeping staff hauling mattresses down hallways on the fourth floor, where several of the 443 guest rooms have been finished with plush patterned carpets, wallpaper and fancy marble-topped furniture.

All the hotel's furniture is being purchased from an Indiana company, Cloud said, but she would not say which one.

She said the resort already is booking convention and company meetings through 2009 and is taking proposals for events beyond then. Cloud said she had been receiving inquiries from companies that have not been to the resort in 10 or 15 years but are eager to come back.

Employees of the John Jones car dealerships, based in Salem and Corydon, will be the first official guests after the resort's soft opening in November. Cloud said it will be the 17th year the group has held its holiday celebration, set for Dec. 2 this year, at the resort.

Construction is going on throughout the hotel, which was pretty much gutted for the renovation.

In one room, light spilled behind plaster artist Patrick Hooper, who came from New York to put his talents to work. He sanded a 50-pound wall sconce, one of eight being recast for display in the old Pluto Room.

He's been in Indiana for a month and expects to keep busy until the November opening.

Sarah Miller and Sandra Alspaugh have full-time jobs as sweepers, going to assigned places to sweep up dust, plaster and whatever else is piling up during the construction.

Alspaugh, from French Lick, has worked at the hotel for 32 years. She mostly was in the food service area and intends to return there when the resort and casino open.

"I'd like to go back to making sandwiches and working the salad bar," she said, anticipating feeding a lot more people once the doors open to the hordes of gamblers expected to find their way to Orange County.

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To see more of the Herald-Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.hoosiertimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

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