'It's been a very long journey': Hotel Indigo returning to life in downtown Naperville
It took three years to build the Hotel Indigo into the downtown Naperville skyline, and three months of the pandemic to nearly bring it down.
The fall came that quickly for the boutique hotel that opened in November 2016 as part of the 10-year, $93-million Water Street District redevelopment project. After some tough short-term decisions, though, the Hotel Indigo once again is poised for long-term success.
Guided by Syed Hasan, the general manager, and owners from the Intercontinental Hotels Group, the Hotel Indigo is returning to life. The latest sign of recovery was reopening the Plank Bar and Restaurant this summer for breakfast and small bites.
"It's been a very long journey," Hasan said.
Although the Hotel Indigo, located at 120 Water St., opened to much fanfare in November 2016, it took about a year for its 158 rooms and amenities to completely open. The hotel did well in its first full year in 2018, and it thrived in 2019 with 75% of its rooms regularly booked.
The momentum continued into 2020 until the pandemic struck in March. Occupancy plummeted to almost nothing, and the hotel leadership had to decide whether to temporarily close or try to hang on.
Furloughs began in April 2020 with 95% of the staff let go. Hasan said he kept one assistant and a housekeeper to maintain the minimal number of guests.
"As you can imagine, everything went south for the hotels very quickly," Hasan said. "The business just evaporated.
"(The furloughs were) the toughest thing that I had to do," he said. "There was so much uncertainty at that time."
The hotel stayed open despite few reservations, at one point allowing overworked staff at nearby Edward Hospital to stay there. By the middle of 2021, occupancy rose to about 50%, but the continued spread of COVID-19 variants kept numbers down.
After more tough months in January and February of this year, bookings vastly improved. Hasan rehired workers as quickly as he could, which proved difficult because most of his previous employees moved on to other careers.
Amenities, like the fitness center, reopened in February. The rooftop restaurant, Santo Cielo, started getting busy again.
With the corner finally turned, Hasan decided it was time to reopen the Plank Bar and Restaurant on the second floor of the building.
"We took off like a rocket," he said. "We've broken all the records we set in 2019 for occupancy, so it was really time for us to fully open."
Plank reopened on July 11 but only on a limited basis because of staffing shortages. Breakfast is back, but food in the evening is still a work in progress.
Instead of offering dinner, like when the hotel first opened, Hasan is shifting to small bites as a complement to the bar. And instead of primarily focusing on business from hotel guests, he wants the community to look at the hotel as part of the neighborhood.
"We'd love to see locals come for breakfast, and we'd love to have them look at our bar as the neighborhood watering hole," Hasan said.
Hasan knows the hotel is not completely out of the woods yet. He still senses hesitancy with people returning, whether it's out-of-towners or locals seeking a staycation.
After the trials of the last two years, though, he can't imagine anything erasing the Hotel Indigo from the Naperville skyline.
"I believe we're on the right track and this is the right way to go," he said. "The whole idea of the Indigo brand is that it becomes part of the ecosystem of where it's located. For us, Naperville is a historic city and has its own charm. That's what we're trying to implement in everything we do."