New Omni will finish by June

Greg Lowe

One of Evanston’s premiere hotels will be closing in January — and by the time it reopens in June, Northwestern students could be without one of their favorite fastfood options.

Evanston City Council approved a plan last week for a $20-million renovation of the Omni Orrington Hotel, 1710 Orrington Ave. Greenfield Partners LLC, the owners of the property, said Thursday that the hotel will close Jan. 4 and reopen as the Hotel Orrington in June.

The renovation plan calls for refurbishing guest rooms and creating a state-of-the-art conference center. And it also recommends replacing the adjacent McDonald’s, 1700 Orrington Ave., with a more upscale, 125-seat restaurant.

McDonald’s is operating on a three-year lease with 10 years of options from Greenfield Partners, said Greg Semos, McDonald’s development director for the Chicago region. The renovation plan calls for Greenfield Partners to buy out the remainder of the lease.

Semos said he is looking for a deal that is fair to all parties,

including McDonald’s, the hotel and the operator of the restaurant.

“We’re not looking to stand in the way of a deal that’s right for everybody,” Semos said. “We have a right to that property and we put hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment into it.”

Semos said he hopes a plan can be worked out, but nothing has been finalized.

“We’re still in the process of being sure that we have a meeting of the minds,” he said. “Until there’s a signed agreement there isn’t. It’s all just a conversation.”

McDonald’s will look for alternative locations in Evanston if the lease is bought out, Semos said.

The possibility of McDonald’s leaving has disappointed some NU students.

“It’s kind of a shame, because my friend and I (agree) this is, like, the classiest McDonald’s anywhere,” said Max Ehrhardt, a McCormick sophomore. “Whenever she comes into town, we always go there.”

The new hotel could bring in up to $2.6 million annually in additional local taxes, said Susan Stoga, spokeswoman for the Omni Orrington. She said she hopes it also will bring additional business to Evanston.

“When people come into the hotel, they eat at the eateries, they shop at the shops,” she said.

Stoga said the renovation will “turn a twostar property into a four-star property.”

The heart of the new plan is the conference center, which will be located on the ninth floor of the hotel. Stoga said the conference center will hold up to 300 people and should bring more corporate business to the hotel.

The renovation also includes a refurbished main ballroom and a new lobby bar.

“All hotels need to be refurbished from time to time,” Stoga said. “What Greenfield is going to do is going way beyond that.”

But Education junior Wardell Minor wondered if the project as a whole would be worthwhile.

“I don’t necessarily think that we need a five-star hotel in Evanston,” he said.

Greenfield Partners purchased the Orrington property from Cigna Insurance in February 2003 with renovation plans in mind.

The renovation proposal also calls for creating up to 30 residential units on top of the parking garage behind the hotel. Stoga said there is no timeline for that part of the plan.