30-year-old Ryan Szymonik and 27-year old Taylor Cesario are supposed to have their 150-guest wedding celebration at the Hilton Orrington Hotel on July 10.
But the Orrington has been closed since late last year (operations “temporarily suspended,” according to a sign on the door). There’s no word on when or if the hotel will ever reopen. Not only is Ryan and Taylor’s event in limbo, but they not don’t know if they’ll ever see a penny of their $7,500 deposit if the reception does not happen.
The couple says they’ve tried contacting the hotel, with repeated phone calls and emails, but have gotten no replies. Zilch.
Ryan says it’s been confusing and frustrating. “We had a great relationship” with the Orrington while planning the event, “but once it became clear they couldn’t have it we were left hanging out to dry.”
And after seeing some Evanston Now articles about the Orrington’s shutdown and financial troubles, Taylor told us “I said now this is it. It’s done. That’s why no one is answering.”
The Orrington’s future is in doubt. Room occupancy plummeted last year as the coronavirus pandemic wiped out business travel, prohibited events and stopped guest-generating room-fillers like Northwestern football games.
Evanston Now has reported that the hotel’s owner, Olshan Properties, has been sued for non-payment of the mortgage for the 259-bed facility.
A financial rating service, Fitch CMBS group, has stated the owners are “willing to turn over the keys” to the company dealing with the mortgage loan.
But there is nothing publicly new about what may happen next. Gina Speckman, Executive Director of Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, says there’s “no word on any new ownership.” She says “we hope it will be bought by an operator who will invest in it.”
But none of that will help Ryan and Taylor now. And this is actually the second time their Orrington event was impacted by the pandemic.
They originally planned to get married at the Orrington on July 11, 2020, but the pandemic forced cancellation. Now, it looks like the rescheduled reception will not take place either.
“It’s been very sad having to cancel last year,” Taylor says. “Now we thought we were in the clear, but to go through all of this the second time around is very hard.”
With last year’s Orrington event cancelled, Taylor and Ryan did get married on the same scheduled day, but it was an informal backyard ceremony with just a handful of family members and friends. No evening gowns. No formal meal. No “Here Comes the Bride.”
This year’s event was supposed to have all of that, with 150 happy guests, cake, champagne, the works. And the appropriate wedding attire.
Taylor’s mother, Caezette Smith, says “My heart is broken. This little girl wants to wear that wedding dress.”
Ryan says the Orrington did stay in contact with them after last year’s cancellation, at least for a while. He says the hotel informed them of what was supposed to be a temporary closing, and offered several alternative dates or a refund, which led to the choice of this July.
“The last couple of times they were easily available,” Ryan says. But lately, nothing. “Where do we go, who do we talk to?” he asks.
“I understand things are unprecedented” due to COVID, he says. “But at least let me know, give me a heads up. At least return our emails,” he adds.
The fate of their $7,500 deposit is also up in the air. Ryan and Taylor signed a contract for the event. “If I cancelled, I’d have to pay,” and lose the deposit, Ryan notes. But “it should go both ways.” If the event can’t happen because the hotel is closed, that’s not Ryan and Taylor’s fault.
Incredibly, it’s still possible to go on the Hilton website and book a room at the Orrington for the weekend of July 10, even though there is nothing on the site saying the hotel is currently closed, and nothing on when it may reopen.
In fact, Speckman says some potential guests have reserved rooms for more recent dates, only to show up and find the doors locked shut and the “suspended operation” sign on the window. Some of those guests, she says, then went to the nearby Hilton Garden Inn and were very angry, even though the two Hilton branded properties have completely different owners.
Evanston Now has reached out to Olshan Properties, the Orrington’s owner, for comment, but have not heard back.
In the meantime, Ryan and Taylor are looking for another venue, at a very difficult time to find someplace. Many other hotels and banquet facilities are already full with events that were cancelled last year and moved to this summer.
But even if the Orrington were to reopen tomorrow, it’s unlikely Ryan and Taylor would want to have their big event there. “I don’t know if I’d want to continue doing business with these people,” Taylor says.