City council members spent a lot of time Monday night digging into the financial prospects for the proposed conversion of a vacant assisted living facility into an extended stay hotel.

But they ended up at a Planning and Development Committee meeting postponing action on the plans until after a scheduled community meeting at the former King Home property at 1555 Oak Ave. at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Building owner Cameel Halim described his plans to renovate the building.

He said he spent $20 million to acquire the property and $5 million to renovate it when he planned to reopen it as an assisted living facility. He says he now anticipates spending $3 million to $4 million more to prepare the six-story building for reopening as a Hawthorn Suites hotel.

A photo of the property included in the meeting packet, with annotations indicating changes Wyndham wants to see on the exterior as part of the conversion process.

He said that, among other features, the building would include a full-service restaurant with outdoor dining overlooking the garden area behind the building.

Leonard Clifton, a representative from Wyndham hotels, which owns the Hawthorn brand, said there currently are 72 Hawthorn locations nationwide, including ones in Bloomington and Decatur in Illinois.

He said the chain typically won’t go into a market unless hotel occupancy levels there are around 60%, and the Evanston market now is at least a bit higher than that.

He said the Hawthorn hotels typically draw people for stays of 7-to-10 days, but some guests — especially corporate relocation clients — may stay for 30 to 60 days.

Halim is an immigrant from Egypt who has built a large portfolio of rental apartment and office buildings in Chicago and Evanston during a long career here, as well as amassing a huge collection of clocks and stained glass that he exhibits at his Halim Time & Glass Museum across the street from the King Home.

But council members seemed focused on whether he and his family could successfully run a hotel, questioning whether it would be better to bring in a third-party management company to operate it.

Clifton said roughly two thirds of Hawthorn hotels are independently owned and managed by the owner.

He said the size of the properties doesn’t lend itself to having an outside management company because they are very expensive.

He said Wyndham provides support to owners to monitor and help them manage the properties.

Halim said adding a management company would add about 8% to the hotel’s operating cost structure and make it economically infeasible to operate.

The hotel plan requires a special use permit from the city. The Planning and Development Committee now is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its May 8 meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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9 Comments

  1. “But council members seemed focused on whether he and his family could successfully run a hotel, questioning whether it would be better to bring in a third-party management company to operate it…”

    I am “curious” as to how many of these questioning Council members have any solid/successful real estate, or even business experience…???

    IMWTK*…!!!

    [ *Inquiring Minds Want To Know ]

    Respectully,
    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and King Home neighbor

    1. I see what you’re saying. It’s about which council members have received rental assistance from those bullies, Connections For The Homeless, right?
      You’re implying that how can someone who can’t even get their rent paid for months (and one for the 2nd time in his career) even pretend to be able to assess a business, when they cannot even handle their own basic housing needs.

  2. Does the city council take into consideration every new business owner’s qualifications? If I wanted to start a restaurant or hair salon, could my lack of professional experience prevent any building plans or special permits from getting approved? It seems to me that anyone starting a new business is of course ‘unqualified’ to run it – they haven’t started yet! Or am I missing something obvious?

    1. This is the same government body that couldn’t manage the fountain square rehab…they have no clue

  3. Has anyone considered what the “neighbors” think? This should be a key issue but as in the past seems to be used only when convenient. Halim’s experience in running a hotel shouldn’t be an issue. I’ve had some experience and it isn’t that hard. What is most important is financial underpinnings while advertising and client base take hold.

  4. “But they ended up at a Planning and Development Committee meeting postponing action on the plans until after a scheduled community meeting at the former King Home property at 1555 Oak Ave. at 5 p.m. Saturday.”

    Show up at the meeting this Saturday to learn more!

    With Margarita Inn possibly “going homeless” and no longer a quaint hotel, an apartment hotel in our city is a perfect fit and will help Evanston get back on track. We can’t afford to allow our council members to throw up barriers that may deter viable new business endeavors here.

    This should be a no-brainer to approve and it will be interesting to see if Jonathan Nieuwsma supports this project with the same enthusiasm he exudes for the “experimental” (his words) homeless shelter at Margarita Inn.

    1. JR wrote:

      “This should be a no-brainer to approve and it will be interesting to see if Jonathan Nieuwsma supports this project with the same enthusiasm he exudes for the “experimental” (his words) homeless shelter at Margarita Inn…”

      I will be at the Saturday meeting and I plan to ask him this *exact* question…

      Respectfully,
      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and King Home neighbor

      1. Please have a few witnesses with you for this.
        From past posts, it seems he tends to ignore you, so having a small back-up group going “yeah good question” might get an answer from him.

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