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In the Loop

They say location is everything. And for Hotel 71, situated in the heart of Chicago’s urban landscape with unobstructed views of the city’s famous architecture and the Chicago River, it certainly is a lot. But to complete the whole package and compete with the Windy City’s other offerings, the high-rise boutique property was in dire need of a full-scale renovation. After starting late last year and now nearing its end, Hotel 71 has been transformed from tired to vibrant, with a design based on simple modernity with a dose of chic. 

On the edge of Chicago’s central business district and within walking distance of Michigan Ave., the property, managed by the Capella Group, is positioned on Wacker Drive amidst the resurgence and revitalization of the Loop. With its desirable location—and the fact that its guestrooms, which average 500 sq. ft., are some of the largest in the city—Hotel 71 was poised to capitalize on the city’s emerging market and, in turn, capture market share. It just needed a lift.

Enter the architecture and design firm of Chicago’s own Pappageorge/Haymes with a new vision and a new life for the property. The $20 million renovation came a few years after the last attempt, under former ownership, was halted due to the economic climate at the time. Under its new owner, Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, the strategy was not only to revamp the hotel but to address all aspects of the property to drive overall business and add value, according to Steve Shern, general manager. And essential to increasing revenue and gaining competitive standing? “Adding a restaurant,” said Shern. “The restaurant was taken offline in 2006 [when the previous renovation plans were terminated], and wasn’t put back online. So from 2007 until 2009, we lost approximately $2 million in room revenue due to the simple fact that we had no dining establishment.” The solution: Hoyt’s, a sleek dining destination located on the first level of the 39-story property. “Offering a full-service restaurant has been highly successful,” said Shern, noting that F&B revenue has grown 26% with the renovation and addition.

In addition to the restaurant, a primary focus of the renovation was the other ground-floor common areas. “The real scope of our job was to animate the lobby, corridors and entry experience, as well as the restaurant and bar, and to create flow by fusing one space with the next,” said Jeff Renterghem, senior associate at Pappageorge/Haymes. “We realized there was a great opportunity to take advantage of views, both through the interior, from one space to the next, and to the exterior. Wherever you are in the hotel, there’s something that pulls you to the next experience—from the sidewalk to the foyer, from the foyer to the lobby, from the lobby to the reception area, etc. There’s great flow.” All of the existing doors were removed to provide a visual connection throughout the main floor and to allow guests to engage with one another. “We tried to blur the line of what is the lobby and what is the restaurant, for instance, so there is more of a blended experience,” noted Renterghem. 

The refreshed lobby features modern lines and a variety of textiles and textures. A key component of this space, as well as the restaurant, is the lighting. Warm in color, it helps create an inviting and welcoming experience for guests. “The lighting package fully integrates with the architecture and complements the interior design while, at the same time, it directs and guides guests from one space to the next, morning to evening,” said Renterghem. “We were able to create, in conjunction with the natural lighting—or lack thereof during the cold, winter months—various moods and intensities that dramatically change depending on the time of day. The restaurant, for example, transitions from morning coffee to evening cocktails through programmable lighting modes.”

But even with the updated makeover, the hotel pays tribute to its past. Despite its 1960s-style skin, which, with its glass-encased facade, makes a strong modern statement, the hotel is housed in a 50-plus-year-old building, which, remarked Renterghem, “might have been a landmark building” if not for its exterior architectural conversion. And while the contemporary redesign of its interior is relegated mostly to its public spaces, the guestroom floors in the vintage building are a nod to the traditional, creating an eclectic fusion of styles that, collectively, can best be described as transitional.

Some of the 357 guestrooms had been refurbished during the initial round of renovations, but, according to Shern, about two-thirds of the inventory had not been touched since 2001. “The renovated rooms were receiving a $40-50 premium in ADR over the more dated ones,” he said. “So, instead of doing a full-blown renovation of the rooms to make them all equal, we looked at how to bridge the gap between what are the premier rooms and what we’d have to do to update the rest.”

In the standard guestrooms, the palette is warm and rich and easily adaptable to future changes, an important consideration for the owner, according to Shern. “From an aesthetic perspective, it was important that the property be competitive in terms of the design, but at the same time, be left open for a potential future owner to change it to suit their tastes,” he said. 

Forty-nine new premier guestrooms, including 10 junior suites, feature spacious living and parlor rooms, and soaking tubs and rainforest showers in the bath. For guests looking to enjoy a workout in the privacy of their own room, there are fitness suites, which feature either treadmills or elliptical machines. Both new and existing guestrooms include technological upgrades: the addition of high-speed, wireless Internet, flat-screen TVs and iPod docking stations to name a few.

Shern is optimistic and excited about 2012 and beyond. “The renovation has been well received. Even in this year of renovation, we’ve grown the room revenue—in a challenging market to boot—20% over the year prior,” said Shern. “We’re looking to do that or more next year without being in renovation and being up to speed. Now we not only have the location, which has always been there the views and the service, we have a physical product that supports all those components.”