Urbana council backs advance for hotel
URBANA — City council members remain hopeful about the progress of the Lincoln Hotel renovation despite months of delays, and on Monday night, they supported giving its owner another $400,000 advance.
The city has already reimbursed $650,000 for renovation costs to Xiao Jin Yuan, who bought the deteriorating hotel and local historic landmark in 2010. They had budgeted to give him another $800,000 over four years, but not until after he opened its doors.
Under Monday night's proposal, the city would use $400,000 of the $800,000 it had budgeted to help Yuan with the costs he still expects to incur before he can start booking rooms. The other $400,000 would remain available after the opening.
The initial $1.05 million is classified as a loan that would be forgiven upon the opening of the hotel. But there are conditions: Yuan must open the business no later than Dec. 31 and keep it in operation as a hotel for at least two years.
The original opening date had been set for November 2011.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox-Johnson, D-Ward 4, said city officials wish the project could go faster and realize the owner probably wishes that, too.
"We're still very excited about the hotel," Bowersox-Johnson said. "We know it's very important for downtown."
City council members will need to formalize their approval when the revised agreement comes up for a final vote on June 18.
Architect Guy Hampel said the plan is to open the lobby and one floor with 45 guest rooms by late summer. When the project is completed, three floors with 130 guest rooms will be open.
Yuan said he plans to hire as many as 15 staffers when the renovations to the entrance are complete. That should be within the next few weeks.
Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said he believes the "reawakening of the hotel" would stimulate downtown Urbana.
"We do hope that the hotel becomes self-supporting and an important part of the business community as an asset to the downtown," Roberts said. "Time will tell."