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Wilmette officials welcome hotel despite neighbors' grumbling

Despite a rocky start that included fierce opposition from some local residents, a 130-room Residence Inn by Marriott opened its doors to guests recently.

Located at 3205 Old Glenview Road, near the Edens Expressway and at the Skokie border, the Residence Inn is the first Wilmette hotel in recent history and represents a significant financial boon for the village, officials said.

In addition to revenue from the hotel-motel tax, officials anticipate the hotel will be among the village's top property-tax and sales-tax generators.

Wilmette Village President Bob Bielinski said he's optimistic the new hotel will benefit the local business community, with guests visiting village restaurants and shops.

"I've been that business person spending extended time somewhere and looking for somewhere to eat," Bielinski said. "It's very exciting they picked Wilmette for the hotel. ... This is an experienced operator working for a high-quality company."

The six-story, all-suite hotel offers studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites appealing to business travelers seeking lodgings for an extended stay, said Kathryn O'Connell, general manager of the Residence Inn Wilmette.

"It's like a home-away-from-home for business travelers, but it's also great for families looking for a get-away weekend," said O'Connell, adding that the hotel features an indoor pool, fitness center and complimentary hot breakfast in the morning.

The groundwork for Wilmette's long-term financial benefit was laid in September 2011, said Wilmette Assistant Village Manager Michael Braiman, when the village created a 9.75 percent hotel-motel tax and also forged an economic incentive agreement with White Lodging, which manages the Residence Inn Wilmette property.

The agreement calls for the village to rebate roughly 77 percent of the hotel tax received for the year, with the total rebate under the agreement not to exceed $3.2 million, which is projected to be hit in 10 years, Braiman said.

Still, some residents remain disheartened that the hotel was built despite the objections of folks living in the vicinity of the venue, in particular, in the neighborhood on Lockerbie Lane, west of the Residence Inn property.

Prior to the hotel's construction, the undeveloped property was a grassy field and grove of trees, Lockerbie Lane resident Christopher Johnson said.

"The hotel is six stories, and the adjacent neighborhood is all ranch homes," said Johnson, one of the residents who spoke out against the hotel proposal at Village Board meetings, urging officials to deny granting special use permits to the developer.

A lawsuit filed by one of Johnson's neighbors on Lockerbie against the village and White Lodging, on behalf of the residents who opposed the project in 2012, was voluntarily dismissed.

"As far as I know, this is the only hotel in the Chicago area we could find that was built right next to single-family home properties," Johnson said. "With the Village Board, no matter what the neighbors did, it was a done deal before it even started."

Local history expert Patrick Leary said the Residence Inn Wilmette is not the first hotel in the village and that Wilmette has a strong tradition of residents objecting to such venues, dating back to the mid-1800s, when taverns doubled as inns for visitors passing through town.

An ill-fated proposal to build a Wilmette Hotel in the 1870s never made it past the drawing board, but Leary said the village was home to the unpretentious Central Hotel, which catered to truckers and boarders on the 600 block of Green Bay Road from the 1920s up until the1980s.

"The old Central Hotel had a little bit of a reputation at one point," said Leary. "This is obviously not a community that traditionally was supportive of hotels for transient visitors and guests."

Nonetheless, Residence Inn Wilmette manager O'Connell said officials are eager to become a trusted new member of the local community.

"A lot of people from the neighborhood have been stopping in to have a look since we've opened, because they are in need of a hotel for family members when they visit," O'Connell said. "Everyone's been very warm and welcoming."

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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