The South Bend Tribune
Sept. 28, 2021
ELKHART – After more than two years of painstaking renovation work, the historic Hotel Elkhart is ready to give the public a taste of what a high-end hotel would have been like nearly a century ago.
Built in 1923, the massive brick building at 500 S. Main Street was used as a hotel until the early 1970s and accommodated famous guests, such as long-time TV personality Ed Sullivan, according to Kimberly Christner, president and CEO of Cornerstone Hospitality.
But in more recent times, the building was used for offices and then apartments as downtown hotels fell out of favor. And Christner said it was falling into disrepair.
With renewed interest in revamping the core of downtown, the old hotel was spotted as a gem in the rough by Cressy Commercial Real Estate and Mno-Bmadsen, the non-gaming investment arm of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.
The two joined forces to undertake the $19 million renovation along with an infusion of cash through the Regional Cities initiative and federal and state tax credits.
The Pokagon Band got involved in the project because it’s interested in helping to preserve the region’s history and wanted to help catalyze the rebirth of Elkhart’s downtown core, said Julio Martinez, CEO of Mno Bmadsen, which means the good path.
Cressy officials had similar sentiments and pointed out that the downtown hotel is needed to support other developments in the area, such as the Lerner Theatre, as well as the new aquatics center, apartments and shops springing up downtown.
Because of the cost of the project, it needed to involve a lot of different entities.
“Projects like this don’t make sense without a public-private partnership, as well as federal and state tax credits for the renovation of historic buildings,” said Christner, who has overseen several such renovations. “They just take too long to complete and are more expensive.”
Because of the historical nature of the building, artisans had to be brought in to restore the terrazzo floors, remake ornate plaster moldings and restore the marble staircase, among other things. But even while it’s true to the past, it’s also completely modern with large guest rooms running from about 400 to 550 square feet, Christner said.
The 93-room hotel also includes a restored ballroom on the ninth floor called the Aria, a rooftop bar called the High Note and meeting spaces, such as the Lyric and Prelude, in deference to the Elkhart Jazz Festival and the time when the city was known as the band-instrument manufacturer for the nation.
Images inside and outside the building also connect with the city’s performing arts history, and Christner hopes guests and performers at the nearby Lerner Theatre make use of the hotel when they’re in town for shows.
“This was undertaken with the intention of preserving and also calling attention to the history of the community,” said Christner, who spent much of the past two years overseeing the project. While the band instrument era might get center stage, there will also be touches reflecting the days when Miles Laboratories was the city’s main employer and more recently when the RV industry has become king.
“This community has an amazing diverse and entrepreneurial history,” she said.
Rates will adjust for seasonal demand, but will run from about $148 for a single up to $363 for a large suite. Christner pointed out that the hotel is already about 75% sold out for this weekend’s Notre Dame football game, suggesting that some people will be willing to drive about a half hour to stay in an historic boutique hotel.
Though local people might not have a reason to stay over night in the hotel, it includes a couple of restaurants and a corner bar that can be enjoyed by anyone wanting to take a look around the renovated property.
Christner said she believes the hotel also will be a popular spot for those seeking a venue for wedding receptions and other special events.
“It’s certainly going to provide among the most refined experiences in the region,” she said.