Guest commentary: Urbana Landmark Hotel owner meets challenges head-on
By DENNIS ROBERTS
During the Monday evening session of the Urbana City Council's Committee of the Whole, the current state of progress at the Urbana Landmark Hotel in downtown Urbana was discussed. Mayor's Chief of Staff Mike Monson gave a detailed report on the current status of the hotel, which is poised to open in a few weeks.
The general public is probably not aware that the transformation of the hotel has been going on at a steady rate under the owner, Mr. Xiao Jin Yuan (XJ). While the construction of a new porte cochere entranceway earlier this year is one very obvious improvement, most of us are probably not aware of the many other renovations taking place.
Certainly, the city of Urbana has chosen to invest its resources and time in the restoration of this hotel. Successful renovation of the hotel has been among the top objectives listed in the city council's goals over the last several years. It is seen as one of the key components of Urbana's long-term downtown economic revitalization plan. It is also a featured goal in the 2012 Downtown Urbana Plan update (Goals and Objectives, A-6, page 64) adopted this year.
I believe it is good use of our TIF dollars. We expect, when the hotel opens, to start recovering value by receiving hotel and retail tax revenues and retail income that would normally occur by having guests staying at a hotel downtown.
I myself have taken a great interest in this project and have been visiting the hotel quite often during the past year, watching the progress and talking often with the new owner, Mr. Xiao Jin Yuan. I have every confidence that we are going in the correct direction. Mr. Xiao Jin Yuan has worked well with the city in saving the Urbana Landmark Hotel, a central downtown business which has had years of mismanagement, poor repair and neglect. We are fortunate indeed to have XJ willing to take on this complex and daunting project.
At the time of his purchase he was told the hotel was in "working order." It was soon discovered that the entire roof was in need of replacement, the water pipes throughout much of the hotel's basement had failed due to lack of heating the building during the previous two winters, the elevator cables had to be replaced, the phone system was antiquated, the furnishings outdated, the breezeway ceiling falling in, and of course the kitchen could no longer meet our modern building code standards. Besides all this, the hotel was not ADA-compliant, requiring a new lobby and lift to be installed.
Adding a new entranceway and porte cochere to receive guests, new skylights over the continental breakfast nook, pulling out rotting and outdated draperies and dust-laden carpeting, repairing water sodden plaster, cleaning out the lower level meeting rooms, removing water-stained rugs, refinishing the wood dance floor of the Great Hall, adding new -inch-thick white marble tile throughout the public area, registration and entryway, and significantly upgrading all the bedding and furniture, buying modern TVs for all the rooms, and installing new key card locks on the doors is only a part of the work that XJ has accomplished at the old Jumer's Hotel.
I do not think I have really covered all the challenges XJ has faced in bringing this wonderful Royer-designed building back to life.
This is the level of the work which XJ has taken on to achieve the transformation now happening at the Urbana Landmark Hotel. I have every faith in him to uphold his part of the bargain in bringing this hotel back to life. Few property owners in my acquaintance have handled so many setbacks met during remodeling so well.
Naturally, the city has an interest in protecting its investment. The recent revision of the city's agreement with XJ and the adoption of a revised, more realistic timetable is based on the challenges he has faced. In time, the hotel will open additional floors to the public, add service in the bar area, and provide food. Restoration of the conference rooms comes a little later, and the swimming pool, which has innumerable problems to meet current code standards due to its age, must come sometime farther down the road.
XJ has also invested heavily from personal funds on these improvements. He just heard from the fire chief that additional work had to be done to bring the sprinkler system up to code. The following day a team was already on the job. I cannot fault him for meeting each new challenge, and I look forward to the soft opening expected before the end of November. Within a short span of time all rooms will be available and the Urbana Landmark Hotel will again be a destination of choice in central Illinois.
Dennis Roberts, a Democrat, serves as alderman for Ward 5 on the Urbana City Council.