Hotel Elkhart wins state's top honors as 'Outstanding Restoration'

ELKHART, Ind. -- A partnership between two local organizations has been honored by the State of Indiana for its work revitalizing Hotel Elkhart.

Indiana Landmarks has awarded the $19 million Hotel Elkhart project with the 2024 Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration. 

"In October 2017, with renewed interest in revamping the core of downtown, Cressy Commercial Real Estate and Mno-Bmadsen, the non-gaming investment arm of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, joined forces as 500 Main, LLC, to undertake a complete renovation of the historic hotel," said Indiana Landmarks' Mindi Woolman.

The organization says the project created 93 guest rooms, two restaurants, a ballroom, meeting space, a rooftop bar, fitness rooms, and commercial laundry facilities, all meeting rigorous brand standards to become part of Hilton Hotels’ Tapestry Collection.

Mechanical improvements include new elevators, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and sprinkler systems.

“To see how the community has embraced this property affirms the investment to return it to vibrant use as a boutique hotel,” says Dan Boecher, project manager. “To be recognized by Indiana Landmarks in this way as folks who really know historic renovation and adaptive reuse is a stamp of approval for our efforts.”

Though Elkhart’s population was less than half its current size when Hotel Elkhart was built in 1923, the hotel remains the tallest building in downtown a century later.

The organization says the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce led the effort to build the original 117-room hotel, as well as an addition in 1928 that nearly doubled its size and added the Athenian Ballroom.

"Hotel Elkhart accommodated many celebrities over the years including Bob Hope, Ed Sullivan, and Audie Murphy, and it served as the backdrop for Robert Kennedy’s 1968 Indiana Primary campaign," Woolman said. "In the early 1970s, declining business prompted the hotel’s conversion to senior housing. Decades later, the building was a public safety concern: multiple apartments had been condemned due to meth lab activity, the sprinkler system was nearly 50 years old, and an active water leak had caused a 30-foot hole in the ballroom’s plaster ceiling."

Historians say many historic details were lost from earlier renovations, but several others were uncovered and refurbished, including terrazzo floors previously covered with carpet and cove detailing in the lobby previously hidden by a drop ceiling.

"Most dramatically, full-height windows in the ballroom were installed to replace spandrel glass added in the 1970s," Woolman said. "The project was financially supported by the City of Elkhart, the state’s Regional Cities Program, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Federal Historic Tax Credits, traditional financing, and developer equity."

Since reopening in September 2021, 18 businesses within walking distance of the hotel have opened.

“The revival of Hotel Elkhart has not only restored one of the city’s outstanding landmarks but also inspired ripple investment in downtown, exactly the kind of community impact we seek to honor with the Cook Cup,” said Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks.

The organization says that each year, Indiana Landmarks awards the Cook Cup to the property owner who follows the highest standards of restoration in transforming a significant historic building, with positive impact on the neighborhood or community.

Indiana Landmarks created the Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration in 2007, when the inaugural prize went to the award’s namesake family in honor of its transformation of the West Baden and French Lick Springs hotels in southern Indiana.

The Cook family is nationally recognized for their many restorations of significant landmarks throughout Indiana.

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