Luckily, developers dedicated to preserving history invested heavily in renovation and enhancement projects in recent years, making these storied properties appealing to meeting and incentive groups both for their storied pasts and their modern amenities. Following are some standouts.
West Baden Springs Hotel
French Lick, Ind.
When it opened in 1902, the West Baden Springs Hotel (888.936.9360)—with the world’s largest dome—was dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Since then, the innovative structure has operated as a luxury hotel, seminary college, performing arts college and resort hotel. It’s a member of Historic Hotels of America and Preferred Hotels & Resorts.
Situated within the French Lick Resort in southern Indiana, the hotel has returned to its roots as a luxury property. In May 2007, West Baden Springs Hotel completed a massive makeover and redevelopment of the hotel, placing special emphasis on high-tech amenities that would enhance the stay of guests and meeting attendees.
Guest rooms at the West Baden Springs Hotel rise in tiers around the six-story dome, providing balcony room guests with a panoramic view of the hotel’s 35,000-square-foot atrium.
“Our atrium is one-of-a-kind and truly jaw dropping when guests first enter our hotel,” says Steve MacKinnon, director of hotel operations. “In our exit surveys, attendees point out the atrium as well as the serenity of our property, big hotel amenities and attentive and friendly staff as the reasons they like us.
“The atrium is a flexible space that can accommodate up to 2,000 people for an event, but we also do a number of receptions for 30 to 75 people,” he continues. “We do up to 10 buyouts a year because of that space.”
Meeting space: 54,000 square feet
Interesting facts: Major League baseball teams once held spring training at the resort. Famous guests included “Diamond Jim” Brady, Al Capone and John L. Sullivan.
Hotel Julien Dubuque
When travelers crossed the Mississippi River into Dubuque, Iowa in 1839, their first sight was the Beaux-Arts style Julien Hotel (563.556.4200), on the corner of 2nd and Main Street. Through the years, the stroried hotel has hosted luminaries like Abraham Lincoln, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Mark Twain.
Three years ago the property was reborn as the Hotel Julien Dubuque—thanks to a detail-oriented $34 million restoration. Highlights of the makeover include the preservation of one-inch thick marble tiles in the lobby, a 20-foot-high coffered ceiling in the ballroom, and arched windows and stained glass doors.
The opulent Grande Ballroom, with high ceilings, elegant chandeliers and expansive windows with views of the Port of Dubuque is the focal point of property’s venue menu. For intimate cocktail parties with Mississippi River panoramas, the River Room, which opens to the River Terrace, is popular for events with fewer than 200 people.
“The renovation preserved the most beautiful elements of this historic property and created a corporate-friendly environment with a wide range of high-end amenities,” says Mark Czeshinski, director of sales. “Our rooms have luxurious bed linens, oversized desks, large flat-panel televisions and complimentary Wi-Fi access, to name a few amenities.”
After-meetings entertainment and recreation is within easy walking distance, Czeshinski says.
We’re situated near boutique shopping, the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum and the Dubuque Museum of Art.”
Meeting space: 15,000 square feet
Interesting fact: The two-bedroom Al Capone Suite pays homage to the noted gangster who, local lore suggests, was a frequent guest when things became “hot” in Chicago. The luxurious suite has a walk-in bank vault—a rumored hiding place for Capone when police or enemies searched for him.
St. Paul Hotel
St. Paul, Minn.
Brimming in old-world, European ambience, The St. Paul Hotel (563.556.4200) looks as if it’s been dropped from on high into downtown St. Paul from Vienna or Prague.
Opened in 1910, the hotel has hosted luminaries since its inception. Among those who’ve visited the hotel for meetings or dinner include aviator Charles Lindbergh, President Howard Taft and President John F. Kennedy. In the late 1930s, a young bandleader named Lawrence Welk played there on Saturday nights.
Today, the hotel has a fresh and modern look complementing its historic appeal; thanks to an extensive renovation five years ago. Special emphasis was placed on technological amenities to enhance the meetings experience. In addition, the St. Paul has an on-site audiovisual company.
Engaging meeting spaces at the hotel include the chandelier laden Promenade Ballroom, which can accommodate 260 people classroom-style and the James J. Hill Room, a stunning, natural lit room that can seat up to 100 for a small general session.
There’s a reason why it has earned the AAA Four Diamond Award for 26 consecutive years.
“Our service level equals our beautiful and historic hotel,” says General Manager David Miller. “We combine a Midwestern upscale service sensibility with friendliness and pride in our hotel.
“Groups receive lots of personal attention in every phase of the planning and execution stages of their meeting,” he continues.
Meeting space: 14,000 square feet
Interesting fact: The St. Paul Hotel faces Rice Park, a two-acre European-style old world park with a fountain, bandstand, manmade ice sculptures and an ice rink during the winter months. The park is available for private parties of up to 200 people.
Mackinac Island, Mich.
Celebrating its 125-year anniversary this year, the Grand Hotel (517.349.4600), on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, has aged well.
A classic summer resort (open early May to late October), the family-owned, massive wood structure is accessible only via ferryboat or charter. Consistent renovations have added amenities and technologies needed and requested by meeting groups.
Overlooking Lake Huron, the hotel’s 660-foot front porch—the world’s largest such venue—has been a social hub on the island for decades. Visited by five presidents and 23 presidential contenders, the porch can accommodate receptions for up to 1,000 people.
For presentations, banquets and other events, the resort’s two-story Woodfill Conference Center offers a stage and projection booth for up to 1,000 attendees, theater-style.
“First-time guests are surprised and somewhat overwhelmed that a property like ours exists,” says Ken Hayward, executive vice president of the Grand Hotel. “We’re a throwback to a simpler time that appeals to every age group.”
An added bonus, he continues, is the island’s self-contained environment.
“It encourages social interaction and networking between attendees,” Howard says.
Rooms: 385 rooms
Meeting space: 24,000 square feet
Interesting fact: The Laura Bush Suite debuted last year as the seventh first-lady-named room.
Edward Schmidt Jr. is a freelance writer with a long history of staying in historical hotels.