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Sage Hospitality Resources Opens The Legendary Blackstone--A Renaissance Hotel
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Chicago’s Finest Example of a Turn-of-the-Century Luxury Hotel Transformed
by a $128 Million Preservation Project
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Chicago, IL March 9, 2008 --- A prominent national landmark, Chicago’s “Hotel of Presidents,” has opened as The Blackstone, a 332-room luxury Renaissance brand hotel. The Blackstone provided regal lodging for many of the 20th century’s most famous figures--from a dozen U.S. presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and John Kennedy, to Hollywood stars. Today, the hotel has been recreated, blending the legacy of its architectural heritage with the exceptional experience of a world-class hotel.

The Blackstone renovation preserved the classic elegance of the legendary hotel while transforming it to meet the expectations of today’s most sophisticated travelers, noted Walter Isenberg, president and chief executive of Sage Hospitality Resources, the Denver, Colorado based hospitality company that developed this benchmark preservation project and is managing the hotel.

“The Blackstone’s ambiance is a dynamic mix of historic architecture and savvy design combined with luxury amenities and thoughtful guest services that set the stage for an inspired, distinctly Chicago experience,” Mr. Isenberg said. “We are honored to have played a part in leading the rebirth for this magnificent Beaux Arts treasure and in creating a hotel that even exceeds the properties rich history.”

The $128 million showcase renovation of the long dormant, 23-story, Beaux-Arts building represents yet another significant development milestone in the renaissance of Chicago’s South Loop downtown. The Blackstone, located at 636 South Michigan Avenue, is in the heart of the city’s arts and theater district and adjacent to the world class Millennium Park.

The Blackstone features 332 stylish guest rooms and suites (among them the fabled Presidential Suite and the Smoke-filled Room), 19,670 square feet of meeting space, a health club, and a business center. The Blackstone also offers a “hotel within a hotel” concept, Hubbard Place, designed to pamper guests with exclusive benefits. A street-level Starbucks Café with outdoor seating serves hotel guests, the local business community and neighborhood residents. 

The Sage Restaurant Group is opening and will operate an independent destination restaurant at the Michigan Avenue location, Mercat a la Planxa, offering modern Catalan cuisine. Mercat will feature an extraordinary selection of tapas dishes with an emphasis on meats and seafood served a la planxa or grilled-to-order as inspired by Barcelona and Spain’s Catalan region.

In discussing the significance of The Blackstone to the Chicago market, Fletcher C.  Mayes, the hotel’s general manager observed:

“The Blackstone enjoys a celebrated legacy among the grand American hotels--for almost a century it was a favorite retreat for U.S. Presidents, royalty, Hollywood stars and sports legends,” said Mr. Mayes. “Now, The Blackstone is back in all its historic glory and more—contemporary Chicago art, exciting design, luxurious amenities--all in the epicenter of our city, poised to give our guests from around the world an exceptional guest experience.”

Collector furniture, exciting custom-designed textiles, contemporary art and special Chicago touchstones compliment the classical character of the hotel. 

In homage to Chicago, The Blackstone’s meeting rooms commemorate the “city” with names such as "L", Metra, The Mayor’s Office and Marshall & Fox (the original architects). To enhance the Chicago connection, The Blackstone’s associates will share engaging souvenir "story cards" featuring legends from the hotel’s storied history with hotel guests.

An innovative collection of over 1600 original artworks, primarily by Chicago artists, is on permanent display throughout the guestrooms and public spaces of The Blackstone, lending a decidedly contemporary twist to the ambiance of the hotel. 

Some of the commissioned artworks reflect the hotel’s history, such as Michael Hernandez De Luna’s stamp-sheet pieces that reference The Blackstone’s legacy as the “Hotel of Presidents.” 

Guests entering the two-story Blackstone lobby with its gold gilded, French walnut paneled walls and brilliant chandeliers, will be treated to an exciting visual counterpoint with an avant garde video-generated computer art piece. The artist, Lincoln Schatz, installed a robotic camera on The Blackstone’s rooftop and programmed it to transmit exquisitely composed and perpetually changing views of Chicago’s lakefront on side-by-side 50” plasma television screens located above the guest check-in pods. In keeping with historic tradition, The Blackstone’s Art Hall will play host to the arts with semi-annual exhibits by young, emerging local artists. The first exhibit features pieces by ten recent graduates of neighboring Columbia College.
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The Blackstone lobby
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The Blackstone is an exceptional fit for the Renaissance brand remarked Rita Cuddihy, senior vice president of Renaissance Hotels and Resorts:

“The Renaissance brand is a showcase for expressive design, classic service and one-of-a-kind guest experiences,” said Ms. Cuddihy. “The Blackstone is a perfect match with its savvy style, singular atmosphere and rich history.”

The Blackstone’s guest rooms are elegantly designed with an eclectic selection of furniture, contemporary art, rich fabrics and a mixture of wood finishes from cream-colored lacquer to deep espresso walnut. All rooms are equipped with a flat screen television, two-line telephone with data port, voice mail, mini bar, fine Chaz Stevens linens, complimentary in-room coffee, hairdryer and bathrobes as well as high-speed internet access. The Blackstone offers Wired for Business, which includes unlimited local and long distance calls within the U.S. and high-speed Internet access for $12.95 per day

Guests at The Blackstone will also have a chance to book two suites that have a prominent place in American history. The Presidential Suite has served as a retreat for twelve presidents and countless dignitaries.  Former President Harry Truman treated delighted staff to a private piano performance of the “Missouri Waltz” in the Presidential Suite. Former President Dwight Eisenhower watched his nomination for President there in 1952. In October of 1962, former President John Kennedy, who reportedly enjoyed the hotel’s Boston clam chowder, stayed in the suite—just before rushing back to Washington for negotiations on the Cuban missile crisis. The last President to stay at The Blackstone, Jimmy Carter, arrived with an entourage that included 164 pieces of luggage and his own valet and chef. 

The more recognized historic suite, the Smoke Filled Room, from which derives the expression “a smoke-filled room” that has come to symbolize party politics, is where cigar-smoking Republican leaders brokered the presidential nomination of Warren G. Harding during the 1920 convention.  It remains the most famous hotel room in American political history.

Both of the three-room suites which include a formal foyer, powder room and master bathroom, have been appointed with period furnishings and fabrics that include the opulent, French Louis XIV style of the hotel. An elegant palette of colors including hues of blue, red, gold and cream and exotic area rugs add to the charm and warmth of the suites.

Discussing Sage’s commitment to preserve the architectural character of the original hotel while taking it to luxury status, Ken Geist, executive vice president for development at Sage Hospitality Resources, remarked:

“As part of the hotel’s renovation, Sage Hospitality Resources sensitively redesigned all the original guest room floors to modernize and dramatically enlarge The Blackstone’s rooms,” Mr. Geist said. “Whenever possible, The Blackstone’s significant historic and architectural elements were preserved, refurbished and incorporated in the renovation design.”

The primary historic facades of the 23-story landmark have been fully retained and restored including tuckpointing and refurbishing the hotel’s ornate terra cotta cladding--over 10,000 individual pieces of decorative, glazed white terra cotta were preserved or recast. The hotel’s parapet was completely reconstructed to replicate the original and incorporate electrical conduits for a series of 30 striking cast aluminum post lamps that outline and illuminate the roofline. The lamps had been removed at some point in the building’s history and now serve as a luminous crown for The Blackstone.

A previously unfinished space under The Blackstone’s porthole-accented mansard roof that had housed mechanical equipment was transformed into the 23d floor Hubbard Place,  containing a lounge, two private boardrooms and a series of luxury suites, all overlooking Lake Michigan. 

The Blackstone is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To preserve its architectural integrity, The Blackstone was renovated as a “certified historic rehabilitation” in accordance with preservation guidelines established by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Illustrated Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. Chicago artisans painstakingly devoted some 3000 hours refurbishing the ornate plaster embellishments in the hotel’s lavish Crystal Ballroom and lobby alone.

Some highlights of The Blackstone’s interior restoration include: 

  • The two-story Blackstone Lobby was restored-including the gilded French walnut paneling, the fireplace and mantle, the ornate plaster ceiling and the basket-woven patterned marble floor. 21 monumental plaster sconces were refurbished and refinished in Venetian gold.
  • The glamorous 3500 sq. ft.  Crystal Ballroom–the premier venue for Chicago’s debut parties and important society events--has been lavishly restored, complete with its elaborate “wedding cake” plaster ornamentation, ornate balustrade and richly embellished ceiling. The ballroom’s 8’ tall and 5’ wide bronze chandelier, which is surrounded by four smaller chandeliers, has 36 lights and hundreds of hand-cut crystals that were sensitively reassembled. 102 historic sconces illuminating the ballroom walls were refurbished. A striking, two story bank of windows overlooking Lake Michigan that are recessed behind louvered doors were refurbished and preserved.
  • The original architectural features of the former Barbershop (which will serve as a Blackstone meeting space, The Barbershop, on the Concourse level) were all preserved and restored including the fluted marble columns that run along the perimeter of the room, the decorative plaster crown and frieze ornamentation (featuring a “menacing” series of lion/boar like creatures) six monumental original plaster chandeliers and a fountain element.
  • The historic English Room (which will serve as an executive boardroom, The English Room) was restored including its richly paneled oak walls, checkerboard marble floors, harlequin diamond, stained-glass windows and elaborate ceiling.
  • The southeast corner suite on the ninth floor from which derives the expression the “Smoke-filled Room,” and the southeast corner suite on the tenth floor known as the “Presidential Suite.”
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Blackstone lobby fireplace
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The project architect for The Blackstone was Chicago-based Lucien LaGrange Architects.  Gettys Group of Chicago and Hong Kong was the interior designer. Joel Straus Consulting served as the Blackstone’s art consultant. James McHugh Construction Company was the general contractor for the renovation. 

Mark 1 Restoration provided exterior restoration services, New Metal Crafts was the lighting contractor and J.P. Phillips restored the hotel’s extensive decorative plaster. 

Blackstone History

Built by prominent hoteliers Tracy and John Drake between 1908 and 1910, the Blackstone is considered Chicago’s finest example of a turn-of-the-century luxury hotel. The Beaux-Art architectural landmark was designed by the architectural firm Marshall & Fox and named for Timothy Blackstone, the president of the Illinois Central Railroad, whose mansion had stood on the site.  For many decades, The Blackstone was considered to be Chicago’s premier luxury hotel, playing host to numerous celebrities including Enrico Caruso who was present at its opening, Rudolph Valentino, Joan Crawford, Lena Horne, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Carl Sandburg, who celebrated his 75th birthday there. 

Fondly referred to as the “Hotel of Presidents,” the Blackstone housed every U.S. president from William Taft through Jimmy Carter except Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford. It was at the Blackstone where a reporter coined the political cliché “smoke filled room.” The Blackstone’s Crystal Ballroom was the setting for the billiard room in the 1986 film “The Color of Money” featuring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. Declared a Chicago Landmark on April 28, 1998, the Blackstone was briefly owned by the Beatles’ spiritual advisor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi but had lain dormant since 1999, before Sage Hospitality acquired the property in 2005.

For The Blackstone Reservations:
For more information and reservations, please call The Blackstone at 312/447-0955 or visit The Blackstone web site. For insider views of The Blackstone, please also visit The Blackstone blog.

About Renaissance Resorts and Hotels
Renaissance Hotels & Resorts is an upscale brand providing full-service accommodations with local flair to discriminating business and leisure travelers at more than 140 properties in 28 countries.  The brand’s presence is strong in the U.S. and worldwide, with approximately half of its properties in North America and half throughout Europe, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Asia. 

About Sage Hospitality Resources
Founded in 1984, Sage Hospitality Resources has strategically grown into the largest privately held hotel management and development company in the nation and is recognized as a leading innovator in the field. During the past eight years, the Denver-based firm has completed more than $600 million in acquisition and development projects, using some of the most unique financing structures in the industry. Sage Hospitality's comprehensive management portfolio includes major international brands as well as independent boutiques and hotels. In 1997, Sage Hospitality pioneered the company's urban redevelopment initiative converting the blighted Joslin's department store in downtown Denver into a showplace Courtyard by Marriott. Since then, Sage Hospitality has preserved and transformed five additional, underutilized national landmark buildings into award-winning hotel properties that serve as important catalysts for downtown revitalization. 
For more information, please visit www.sagehospitality.com

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Contact:

Susanne Voeltz 
For The Blackstone-A Renaissance Hotel 
Phone: 608/284-0848
susi@mailbag.com
 

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Also See: Sage Hospitality Names Fletcher C. Mayes General Manager for The Blackstone, a Renaissance Hotel; $112 million Renovation of Chicago’s Legendary Hotel Set for Completion Late in 2007 / September 2007
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