URBANA – After a year’s delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, work has begun on renovating a long-closed downtown Urbana hotel. Plans are to reopen the building as the Hotel Royer, with the promise of city financing if the work is completed.
The new name honors the hotel’s architect, Urbana native Joseph Royer, whose other buildings include Urbana High School, the Champaign County Courthouse and the Urbana Free Library.
Haaris Pervaiz, with development/ownership firm Icon Hospitality, says naming the hotel after its locally-known architect is part of their strategy to open an upscale boutique hotel in the nearly 100-year-old building. The firm is seeking a branding agreement with the Hilton hotel chain, using its Tapestry Collection By Hilton brand.
“We’re going to keep the existing structure and keep the existing history to this hotel, but really elevate the look, elevate the experience for it,” said Pervaiz.
The Hotel Royer will be the fifth name for the hotel, which first opened in 1924 as the Urbana-Lincoln. It also operated as Jumer’s Castle Lodge and the Historic Lincoln Hotel, before developer Xiao Jin Yuan reopened it in 2012 as the Urbana Landmark Hotel. But renovation costs were higher than expected, and the Urbana Landmark closed in 2016, never having reopened its restaurant and conference space. The hotel was put up for auction in 2017, and eventually sold in 2020 to Icon Hospitality.
Pervaiz says he wants the Hotel Royer to be a unique spot for travelers to stay but also a meeting spot for local residents who come to its restaurant, bar and conference spaces.
“We think that this market really needs an upscale hotel with character, a hotel that has a lot of history that is an exciting eclectic experience for guests to visit.”
Parvaiz says the Hotel Royer will have modern rooms, but keep a classic look in its common areas. He says their plans address a unique design challenge: the Lincoln Square shopping mall was built onto the hotel in the 1960s, and the original front entrance faces into the mall’s food court. Since then, a porte-cohere has been added to what once was the back of the hotel to serve as a new main entrance.
Pervaiz says their solution will be to create a new front desk for the newer entrance, and convert the original front desk area into a lobby bar.
“So that’s going to have a lot of hangout space, a lot of space for people to gather in social settings, enjoy a cocktail, have a chat with their friends,” said Pervaiz. “It’s going to be a very dynamic and lively lobby.”
Meanwhile, the hotel’s long-closed Alumni Tap, which also opens into Lincoln Square Mall, will be used for the hotel’s fitness center.
Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin says the city is ready to reimburse at least $5.2 million of Icon Hospitality’s construction expenses, but only after Icon Hospitality meets the terms of their agreement.
“They won’t receive any money from the city until the (Tapestry) brand is secured and the project is essentially completed,” said Marlin.
Work on the hotel was supposed to begin last summer, only to be delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic. Marlin says she feels better about the project, now that renovations are finally underway.
“Every milestone that’s met, I feel a little bit better,” said Marlin. “And eventually we’re going to have the best, biggest reopening celebration you’ve ever seen in the city of Urbana.”
The previous developer, Xiao Jin Yuan, returned incentive money to the city of Urbana, having failed to meet a requirement to reopen the facility’s restaurant and conference center.
Pervaiz says the exterior of the hotel will be fixed up, but remain largely as it is, including its extensive Tudor Revival façade. Mayor Marlin notes that due to its Local Historic Landmark status, any changes to the exterior of the hotel must be cleared by Urbana’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Pervaiz says work is underway on clearing out the building’s interior for the renovations to come, while outside, the hotel’s roof is being replaced. He says they hope to have the Hotel Royer ready to open by late 2022.