City officials of Aurora and Elgin, Illinois eye new downtown hotels
Mike Danahey and Steve Lord | The Beacon-News, Aurora, Ill. | January 3, 2018 4:01pm
Jan. 02--Officials in Aurora and Elgin say that the time may have come for more downtown hotels.
Aurora does have one downtown hotel, the Holiday Inn Express at North Broadway and Spring Street.
The hotel partners a lot with Two Brothers Roundhouse, which is just across the parking lot from the Holiday Inn. Two Brothers does a brisk wedding, banquet and meeting business, and many people stay at the hotel, city officials said.
The hotel is also just across the street from RiverEdge Park and a few blocks from the Paramount Theatre too.
"We're lucky here, because we do have the Holiday Inn Express," said Cort Carlson, director of the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Still, that set-up cannot handle larger regional conventions and meetings. Aurora officials have long sought to get a hotel with larger meeting rooms to handle those kinds of things in the downtown area.
In Elgin, Downtown Neighborhood Association Executive Director Jennifer Fukala believes there is a need for a downtown hotel in that city at some point in the near future.
"On the event planning levels we are already seeing the challenges of where people will stay when they come here from out of town to enjoy premier events such as the Historic Elgin House Tour, the four-day Fringe Festival, Nightmare on Chicago Street, the annual pub crawl, the Dennis Jurs Bike race, the Civil War reenactment and the outdoor summer concerts the Grand Victoria Casino sponsors," Fukala said.
Not having a place for people to stay downtown is on some level limiting the success of the events held in Elgin and the marketability of the area, according to Fukula.
"If people had a place to stay downtown, the area could easily become a weekend getaway where people come for an event and stay overnight, also visiting landmarks like our award-winning Elgin History museum, catching a round of golf and dining at our restaurants or casino," she said. "Travelers could even utilize our wonderfully located Metra line to have a completely walkable experience."
Fukala said the hotels in Elgin right now are better located for people who are passing through along the highway rather than for people who are coming to Elgin to experience what the heart of the city has to offer.
Aurora did have downtown hotels many years ago, but that changed as the city's business center moved from downtown to outer regions of Aurora, such as along Interstate 88, Route 59 and Orchard Road, Carlson said.
Officials point out that there have been plans for downtown hotels in Aurora. One failed plan was for a hotel with just the kind of meeting space officials have been talking about at Benton and River streets, the site of the former offices of The Beacon-News and now the home of the Santori Aurora Public Library.
The original River City plan by Sho-Deen, Inc., south of Benton Street, had a hotel in it. That was a victim of the recession of the early 2010s. The Hollywood Casino has also looked at building or partnering with a hotel several times since it came to town almost 25 years ago.
"That always was a vision of past ownership," said Bill Wiet, Aurora's chief development officer for many years, who just retired. "The conversation hasn't come up since the recession."
Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain also said the idea of a hotel tied to the casino has come up in his city. He said a conversation about a downtown hotel came up more than five years ago. At the time, the casino in Elgin was considering building a venue for conventions and concerts, Kaptain said.
"Those were preliminary, preliminary, preliminary talks," Kaptain said concerning a hotel.
Kaptain also recalled a comment made more than 20 years ago, when he served on an environmental committee tied to the Grand Victoria Casino. According to Kaptain, casino officials in the past didn't want to build a hotel until they could be sure every room would be filled every weekend.
"It wasn't part of their plan or vision," Kaptain said. "The Elgin casino is not a destination spot for people traveling a great distance. People gamble there and go home. They had no competition back when they opened the Grand Victoria. Why would they build a hotel now, when there is more competition (from the Des Plaines casino which opened in 2011 and video gambling in bars)?"
Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Kim Bless agreed that the casino there is within a reasonable distance from other casinos, while video gambling machines are in many bars and restaurants and video gambling parlors are in strip malls across the state, meaning a lot of people who enjoy gambling don't have to travel far to do so.
The bureau does work with the casino on arranging packages and special rates at several Elgin hotels for individuals and even motorcoaches. In turn, the bureau helps market the casino to others who might be staying at the hotels. Several hotels also offer shuttle service to and from the Grand Victoria, Bless said.
The recession a few years ago also has played a part in keeping hotels from local downtowns. Aurora Ald. Sherman Jenkins, at large, who spent 12 years as the head of Aurora's Economic Development Commission, said the recession squashed several downtown Aurora hotel plans. That kind of development is often the first to go during a recession, and the last to come back, he said.
"The economy has come back, and we're seeing slow and steady interest," Jenkins said. "It's based on cycles. We're the second-largest city in the state, we have the train station, the river, the casino."
He said with more residential and other types of activity downtown, it is "pushing us to the point" where hotel development will be considered again.
There has been talk of a luxury hotel development in The Terminal building at Broadway and Galena Boulevard, in Aurora's city center. That would be more of a boutique type of hotel, tied to the entertainment options downtown.
Officials said that is the kind of hotel that would likely come to downtown Aurora in the near future.
"That is tied more to the visitor-traveler than to the business traveler," Carlson said.
Carlson also pointed out that while there are no specific plans for downtown hotels right now in Aurora, hotels in the other business centers of the city are upgrading. He also said there could be several more near the Orchard Road and I-88 exchange soon.
"It's all good news," he said. "It'd rather it be slow and steady, than to over-build and hit a recession."
Kaptain is not optimistic about a hotel opening in downtown Elgin anytime soon.
"We are nowhere even close to moving off square one," Kaptain said.