|By Mike Monson, The News-Gazette,
Champaign-Urbana, Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 12, 2008 - URBANA -- The new owner of the Historic Lincoln Hotel agrees that the 78-year-old hotel is, well, historic and probably deserving of local landmark status.
But the Normal-based company that bought the hotel in March doesn't want the designation, contending that just the prospect of being declared a local landmark is driving away hotel brands that could turn around the hotel's fortunes.
"This has consistently been a sticking point" with hotel brands, said Fred Rotermund, vice president with Global Hotel Management of Normal, which bought the 128-room hotel on March 21 from Marine Bank of Springfield. The bank had foreclosed on the previous owner.
The hotel was nominated for city historic landmark designation on Feb. 22 by Brian Adams of Urbana, an active historic preservationist.
Urbana's historic preservation commission voted 6-0 this week to endorse landmark status for the hotel. But because Global Hotel Management opposed the designation, the issue will now go the city council on June 2 for a final decision. It will take a two-thirds majority, or five of seven council votes, to approve the hotel as a landmark.
The owner of a landmark building is required to get a certificate of appropriateness from the historic preservation commission to make a significant change to the exterior of the building, such as an addition or demolition, any removal of an architectural feature or adding new windows and doors.
Rotermund said his company has approached seven hotel companies about obtaining a brand for the Historic Lincoln Hotel and that three of them cited possible landmark designation in turning them down.
A brand is similar to a franchise, Rotermund said. Global Hotel Management would continue to own the hotel, but, to obtain a brand, it would have to meet the standards of the brand, obtain a license and pay the company royalties and fees. The local hotel would then benefit from national advertising and customer loyalty.
In a April 30 letter to the city, Devang Patel, president of Global Hotel Management, explained the company's opposition to landmark designation.
"The landmark designation creates an additional level of restriction that brands do not want or need to entangle themselves with in a highly competitive marketplace," he wrote. "The designation also potentially limits the hotel from meeting certain brand standards such as exterior design specifications." Additionally, Global Hotel Management prefers to borrow money for a modernization of the hotel locally, he wrote, and local banks have indicated they won't finance the hotel project without a national brand affiliation.
Patel added that he wants to retain the English Tudor influence of the original section of the hotel while adding "modern hotel design elements." Alice Novak, chairwoman of the preservation commission, said she did a computer search and found 40 different hotels with national brands located in historic buildings. She said the Historic Lincoln Hotel, which is already on the National Register of Historic Places, clearly meets the city's standards for a local landmark and that's what the commission based its decision on.
But Alderman Charlie Smyth and Mayor Laurel Prussing both say they are listening to the hotel ownership's concerns.
"The city really wants to see the property developed, but we want to maintain the historic character, so we'll see what we can do," Prussing said.
Smyth said he's willing to wait on landmark designation if it means having "a good viable hotel."
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