Since 2016, the City of Urbana has struggled to find a proper owner for the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel — someone who would not only renovate it but help revive the downtown Urbana area.
The downtown area currently has a wide range of bars and restaurants, as well as abandoned lots and businesses left in shambles.
Both city officials and the new owner, Icon Hospitality, LLC, are now confident the hotel will not only successfully open in late 2022 but will bring in significant revenue.
However, it has been an arduous journey since the early 2000s. There have been at least 7 different owners, 5 name changes, and millions of dollars in renovations and selling costs.
During that time the city has offered millions of dollars of tax incentives, all of which had to be returned to the city after renovation efforts failed. In the latest deal, the city has offered the developer $5.5 million in tax credits on the $15 million project.
“I do believe these renovation efforts are going to be successful this time around.” Marcus Ricci, one of the planners for the city of Urbana, said in an interview, “Icon Hospitality has done this at other properties, larger even than this, in Chicago. They are working with a historic preservation consulting firm that does this as their bread and butter.”
Ricci said that the owners “do a lot of work in Chicago that’s bigger, downtown, and have tougher regulations. This is a big project in and of itself, but it’s not the biggest thing they’ve done. It’s the biggest thing that Urbana has done.”
The Urbana-Lincoln Hotel, which will again be renamed to Hotel Royer upon its reopening, has had a tortured history. Upon its initial closure in 1975 after failing to turn a profit, the hotel was slated to be demolished. Thus began the series of hotel ownership turnover.
Below is a list of the more well-known owners:
Jumer’s Hotel Chain
In 1975, the Jumer’s Hotel Chain purchased the Urbana hotel and renamed it Jumer’s Castle Lodge.
Not including Urbana, the company had guest rooms in Peoria, Bloomington, Bettendorf, and Galesburg, totaling nearly 1,000 rooms. During its ownership, an addition was built on the Urbana hotel. In 2001, the Urbana hotel was sold and the hotel chain filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy soon after.
The company still, however, operates its casino and other independently-owned businesses.
Xiao Jin “XJ” Yuan
The previous owner, Xiao Jin “XJ” Yuan, purchased the hotel for $600,000 in 2010.
He invested $2 million of his own funds into the project, as well as $1.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) funds from the city of Urbana. He had to return the incentive money to the city after failing to meet the terms of the development agreement, which included reopening the hotel’s restaurant and conference center.
Icon Hospitality, LLC
In 2020, the hotel was sold to Icon Hospitality, LLC for $1 million after three failed attempts to sell to other buyers. This was over $4 million less than Yuan’s initial asking price. Upon completion of the renovations, the hotel will be connected to the Hilton Tapestry line of hotels.
If Urbana has finally recruited a successful renovator for the historic Urbana-Lincoln hotel, this will prove to be crucial for the long-term financial success of the area. Marcus Ricci had this to say after being asked what is next in store for the city upon completion of the hotel:
“We are working on the update of our comprehensive plan, which is basically the vision document for the city. There have been ideas discussed in the past, such as ice rinks and plazas. I think the comprehensive plan revision is going to be the next big thing in store. It will drive what happens downtown as well as around downtown and in the residential areas.”