INfrequently asked questions: Hotel rehabber takes DIY to a new level
Why him? Jim and his wife Tely took do-it-yourself to a whole new level when they bought the long-vacant, iconic Drake Oak Brook hotel and restored it to its original 1961 glory and beyond. A trial lawyer who purchased real estate on the side prior to 2008's housing market collapse, Jim says the couple swore off debt. Until The Drake came along in 2013. Two years of renovations later, the couple reopened the hotel in April.
Q: After clawing your way out from under the housing recession, why The Drake? Why more debt?
A: "The Drake personified me. We're both the same age. For decades it was smooth sailing. Things were great. Then in 2008, The Drake and myself got knocked down very hard. Everyone wrote us off. Everyone thought the best days were behind us. Now here we are, still standing. Better than ever. With the best yet to come."
Q: Give me the rundown. By the numbers.
A: "Eighty-four guest rooms. Fifty more coming (in the back building). Eight-five employees. Fifteen-thousand square feet of banquet, dining rooms and bar."
Q: Were you nervous?
A: "Yes and no. After surviving the recession, or in real estate it was more of a depression ... after being able to work my way out of it, The Drake mirrors that."
Q: What condition was it in?
A: "At the time I acquired it, it had been vacant for five years. The plumbing, heating and cooling … It had fallen into such disrepair. Even when it was still open. The owners were not putting money into it and not doing the things you need to do with a property that size."
Q: Did you have to gut everything?
A: "Pretty much. Not everything. But close. When it's been vacant that long, you have to bring everything up to code."
Q: Any surprises?
A: "The back building was not gutted and all the (still usable) furniture was in place ready to go. Six weeks after we bought it, the pipes froze and the whole building was destroyed. … Maybe it's for the better. We gutted it, and we're turning it into beautiful suites now with kitchens and living rooms."
Q: How is it different from the old Drake?
A: "By our banquet rooms, we made a beautiful courtyard with a covered veranda and fountains. We're finishing up the gazebo. We're bringing back the restaurant that was there for 40 years -- The Lodge. We got rid of the outdoor pool and now we're going to have outdoor dining adjacent to that restaurant. We brought back the Sunday brunch two months ago."
Q: Is it haunted?
A: "I have not seen anything. What I've heard and what I sense, when you first come in the door, it has such a warm and welcoming feel to it. Who knows? Some people claim it's great spirits that are there. I do hear that people feel very welcomed and at peace when they're on the property."
Q: It's not a typical hotel renovation?
A. "Often, a billion dollar private equity firm … (will) bring in a design and architectural firm and hire a general contractor and a project manager … 20 or 30 subcontractors and an interior designer to decorate and a purchasing agent for the furniture and hire a management company to run the hotel.
"All that work, my wife and I did. From negotiating the deal to getting our own financing. Didn't use any architects or designers. … That's the thing that my wife and I are most proud of. We did it all by ourselves with a handful of men."
INfrequently Asked QuestionsA weekly feature of the Daily Herald that explores the sides of suburbanites' jobs or hobbies that you might have always wondered about. To see more, go to www.dailyherald.com/topics/INfrequently-Asked-Questions/