After deep cleans and a few updates, the Palmer House is coming back to society


For 15 months, the majestic Palmer House has been closed, brought down by the pandemic and the precarious state of its property. For many places that are so expensive to maintain, that would mean neglect. This is not the case for this royal Chicago montage.

The Palmer House has been cleaned, maintained, repaired and refurbished while remaining at rest. He put plumbers, roofers and tuckpointers to work, giving the monument its own spa treatment worth over $ 4 million.

And now this high-ranking citizen of Chicago’s hospitality and heritage is ready for his close-up. The hotel at 17 E. Monroe St. reopens Thursday, an event that should mark a checkpoint in Chicago’s gradual reopening.

“I could never get used to seeing the Palmer House totally empty,” said Managing Director Dean Lane, as he stood on the mezzanine overlooking the great hall, usually bustling with meetings, celebrations and parties. trade negotiations. He looks forward to Thursday, when he comes to life with patrons dining from a menu of small plates and cluttering the bar, perhaps toasting the repeal of pandemic restrictions as their ancestors handled the end of the ban.

Dean Lane, General Manager of Palmer House.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Lane expects the “waterfall effect” from all of this. “When we open, the restaurants will open, the stores will open. When the Palmer House opens in the Loop, State Street starts to bustle, ”he said.

He and a team of around 50 continued to run the place during the suspension, took the break to do some serious work. The windows have been cleaned, the old inefficient light bulbs replaced. The ceilings of the Grand and State Ballrooms were repaired, and right above them, the hotel was awarded $ 2.2 million to upgrade a swimming pool installed in 1963.

Lane said he brought back 200 from a pre-pandemic workforce of around 900 and looked forward to further callbacks as business picks up in the fall. The rehires are subject to terms negotiated with Local 1 of the hotel workers’ union, Unite Here.

While some hotels have had issues with staff, Lane said the Palmer House has many long-time employees eager to return. “It was like they were winning the lottery when I called them. You could hear them jump around and say to their loved ones on the phone, “I’m coming home. I will return.’

Lane said he had to remind employees to slow down. “A lot of them haven’t worked for months and they will be tired. So I tell them, “Relax, check your body, stay hydrated. “A lot of people don’t realize how physical the work can be,” he said.

As a result, the hotel is planning a gradual reopening. About half of the 1,641 rooms will be available initially, and room service will be limited to ‘take out’ pickups at a new lobby level outlet, a nod to the demand for convenience for guests. today’s travelers.

The Palmer House pool received a $ 2.2 million upgrade when the hotel closed.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

The owner of the Palmer House, New York-based Thor Equities, was one of the most significant business casualties of the pandemic. Thor was accused last year of defaulting on a $ 333.2 million mortgage on Palmer House as the closure hurt the property’s value. A receiver manages ownership decisions for the Palmer House, which Hilton operates under a management contract.

Lane said the deal caused Hilton no difficulty and the receiver approved funding for the work during the shutdown. The company has been associated with the Palmer House since Conrad Hilton bought it in 1945, and Lane said he expects the relationship to continue for decades to come. Thor, who reports interest in more than 200 properties, did not return a message seeking comment on the lockdown.

The Palmer House is Chicago’s second-largest hotel, after the Hyatt Regency, and its prosperity depends on the plentiful return of conventions and business meetings. Gene Hare, regional sales and marketing manager at Hilton, said signs of a comeback are strong, with brides wanting a wedding in the Empire Room at Palmer House patiently rescheduling once or twice and visiting the ownership continuing throughout the closure.

The staircase leading to the Empire room with floors.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Many hotels see the Chicago Auto Show in July and Lollapalooza later in the month, triggering higher demand for accommodation. Hare said another test will be the Fabtech show for the metal industry, an event still on McCormick Place’s September schedule.

Meanwhile, Lane is just happy that the hotel can anticipate its 150e birthday on September 26. It marks the date the first Palmer House opened on the property in 1871, an unfortunate wedding gift Potter Palmer designed for his wife, Bertha. The Great Chicago Fire consumed him 13 days later. A replacement opened in 1875 and the current version dates from 1925 in a staged construction that has kept the hotel running without interruption.

The Palmer House has claimed the title of the nation’s oldest continuously operated hotel, but the COVID-19 shutdown calls that into question.

To attract vacationers, the hotel offers rates of around $ 170 a night. There are cheaper places to stay, but none more so in Chicago’s history. The Palmer House includes an archive and a museum available for small-group tours.

“It’s not so much a question of price. It’s always about the experience, ”Hare said.

Yes, the Palmer House is back, and with a bit of bluster.

The Palmer House has its own archives and museum, which contains documents about the hotel and Chicago.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

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