News Local/State

Developers Make Case For Renovating Urbana Landmark Hotel

Developer Dionis Rodriguez and project manager Bill Walsh pose with a suit of armor in the Urbana Landmark Hotel

Developer Dionis Rodriguez and project manager Bill Walsh pose with a suit of armor in the lobby of the shuttered Urbana Landmark Hotel, which they hope to renovate. Jim Meadows / Illinois Public Media

The developer who wants to renovate downtown Urbana’s Urbana Landmark Hotel made a presentation before the Urbana City Council Monday night. Dionis Rodriguez and his development firm Crimson Rock Capital have big plans for the 94-year-old building that closed last year --- but only if the city is ready to provide some financial assistance.

The rooms at the Urbana Landmark Hotel look like they’re ready for use right now. But Dionis Rodriguez wants to spend millions to completely renovate the hotel under a Hilton specialty brand, targeting upscale millennials.  To do that, he says financial help from the city is critical.

“It’s critical for us to be involved, and for us to be able to make this into the type of project that would be catalytic and that would transform the hotel,” said Rodriguez.

The idea is for the city to issue $9.5 million in bonds to help the hotel, once the renovation is done. Projected tax revenue would help pay the bonds off. The Urbana City Council could vote on the proposal later this month, before voters elect a new mayor and city council in the April 4th municipal elections.

The outgoing mayor, Laurel Prussing, has been a big booster of the Rodriguez project. The two mayoral candidates, Democrat Diane Marlin and Republican Rex Bradfield, have expressed skepticism about the bond proposal.

If the city council commits to issuing the bonds, Rodriquez says he can go ahead with making plans for the hotel’s renovation. The developer wants to scrap the hotel’s old-European décor, which dates to its days as a Jumer hotel. His idea is to take the hotel’s style back to the 1920s when it was built as the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel.

But project manager Bill Walsh says the rooms would still be essentially modern. For instance, he says, guests should not expect four-poster beds.

“There’ll be elements that hark back to the history,” said Walsh. “That’s real easy to do, with photographs, with your artwork. Those entry doors, if they’re preserved, they’ll be telling your something about the age of the building. But I’m not going to try to reconstruct a 1920’s bathroom, for Pete’s sake.”

Rodriguez says he also wants to renovated hotel to evoke memories of Abraham Lincoln, after whom the it was originally named.

The Urbana Landmark hotel has been closed since last spring. It struggled under two different names (the Historic Lincoln and the Urbana Landmark) and two different operators over the last 15 years.

Urbana city officials have wanted to preserve the building, one of several in the city designed by local architect Joseph Royer (1873-1954).  Royer’s other buildings include Urbana High School, the Urbana Free Library, the Illinois Traction Building in Champaign, high schools in Dixon and Chicago Heights and courthouses in Piatt and Grundy Counties.