URBANA — In what officials hope will be the first step to transforming the entire Lincoln Square area, aldermen voted unanimously Monday to advance a plan that would return the Landmark Hotel to its intended use.
It's a $17 million project that would see the facility become a Tapestry by Hilton-branded boutique hotel — on which the city will impose at least a 4 percent tax — with the potential to be a "turning point for the community," said Alderman Dennis Roberts.
But speaking for many in the community, Roberts was quick to express his concern for the historical preservation of the hotel, and probed representatives from developer Marksons Affiliates LLC on their plans.
He said the character of the hotel is threatened, as a lot of the old woodwork, large pieces of furniture and other details will be changed in the renovation.
One of his big concerns is the extent to which the new branding will require interior renovations.
Samuel M. Spiritos, who runs the Maryland-based business, said that because the project will make use of historic-renovation tax credits, it will be heavily restricted on what it can do to the building based on state and federal regulations.
He added that the Hilton brand has a "very strong voice in terms of what goes on" inside the hotel, so the firm will be "constrained and benefited by the requirements."
"We probably don't have as great a license to change things inside or outside," Spiritos said, adding that the Tapestry brand is extended to hotels that have iconic, historical or unique properties, so they can go under the umbrella of Hilton while still keeping the elements of the existing properties.
"I'd like you to have a thoughtful touch," Roberts told the Marksons representatives. "Certainly, I have no issue renovating the rooms to the most high standards, but there is concern in the community about some of the historic items in the hotel. Some of the fixtures are historic in nature, and some of the furniture too. The ballroom, lobby and the library are all unique spaces."
Aside from Roberts' concerns, the rest of the council was enthusiastic about the project and applauded the deal after a unanimous vote was taken to advance it for final approval next week. Mayor Diane Marlin said in a letter to council members that based on the city's analysis, this project is "the highest and best use of this property."
"This agreement represents a major milestone after years of effort and months of negotiation to achieve renovation and re-opening of our downtown historic hotel," she said. "Renovating the hotel will generate the most benefit for our community in terms of tax revenue and long-term activation of the site. I strongly believe that the proposal will be the first step in the transformation of the entire Lincoln Square site in the heart of our downtown."