New venue with capacity for 600 is largest of its kind in Elgin area

  • Marilyn Mensching and her husband, Darren, not pictured, are turning the vacant top floor of the RR Donnelley Building in Elgin into an event space. The St. Charles couple's Highland Lofts, 168 E. Highland Avenue, is 19,500 square feet and has a capacity for up to 600 people.

      Marilyn Mensching and her husband, Darren, not pictured, are turning the vacant top floor of the RR Donnelley Building in Elgin into an event space. The St. Charles couple's Highland Lofts, 168 E. Highland Avenue, is 19,500 square feet and has a capacity for up to 600 people. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Darren and Marilyn Mensching, a couple from St. Charles, turned the vacant top floor of the RR Donnelley Building at 168 E. Highland Avenue in Elgin into an event space. The Highland Lofts is 19,500-square feet and has a capacity for up to 600 people. The plan got the OK from the Elgin City Council last week and the space will be part of the "Ring Around Elgin" event Oct. 9 featuring 11 venues in and around Elgin, and organized by the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

      Darren and Marilyn Mensching, a couple from St. Charles, turned the vacant top floor of the RR Donnelley Building at 168 E. Highland Avenue in Elgin into an event space. The Highland Lofts is 19,500-square feet and has a capacity for up to 600 people. The plan got the OK from the Elgin City Council last week and the space will be part of the "Ring Around Elgin" event Oct. 9 featuring 11 venues in and around Elgin, and organized by the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/4/2019 8:43 AM

A new event space on the top floor of the RR Donnelley building in downtown Elgin with capacity for up to 600 people will be the largest venue of its kind in the Elgin area.

The Highland Loft is the vision of Darren and Marilyn Mensching, a couple from St. Charles who is leasing the vacant, 19,500-square-foot top floor of 168 E. Highland Ave. in Elgin. The space will be part of the "Ring Around Elgin" free tour Wednesday for people who want to check out venues for weddings or other special occasions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The three-story Highland Avenue building is mostly occupied by the commercial printing company RR Donnelley. The company moved out of the top floor recently but still occupies the second floor and majority of the first floor. The original building was constructed around 1895 as the Ackemann Brothers Department Store; an addition was built between 1903 and 1913 and the facade was heavily altered in the 1960s and 1990s.

The Highland Loft has original ceilings, maple wood floors and exposed brick. Work will include installing new lighting and expanding the kitchen, Marilyn Mensching said. Karen Swichtenberg is a part-owner in the venture and will serve as in-house event coordinator.

Mensching, a bridal show promoter, said people are moving away from renting traditional banquet halls for events, instead opting for "unique, versatile, different places."

The Elgin City Council granted a conditional use permit for The Highland Loft last week. Assuming a liquor license and necessary permits are issued with no delays, the venue would open later this month or in early November, with a grand opening in mid-November, Marilyn Mensching said. "We would like to get up and rolling," she said.

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Wednesday's Ring Around Elgin event is a free, self-guided tour of The Highland Loft and 10 other venues, which will be decked out with table sets, bakery, caterers, DJs and more so people can get a feel for what it's like to have a wedding or special event there.

"We are bringing the interested parties to the venues rather than having the venues talk about their space at a wedding expo," said Krisilee Murphy, executive director of the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which organizes the tour. "The venues can roll out the red carpet and truly show these engaged couples what it would be like to host their event in Elgin."

Registration for the tour is on pace to exceed last year's 248 tickets, she said. For those who book venues in the Elgin area, the bureau offers free services such as setting up room blocks at local hotels, finding transportation for guests, providing contacts for photographers and DJs, finding places for wedding showers and rehearsal dinners, and planning the "next morning brunch."

Jennifer Fukala, executive director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin, said there's been interest in renting large event spaces in Elgin. The only other large-scale, local rental venue is the Hemmens Cultural Center, whose auditorium holds 1,200 people and lower-level "exhibition hall" holds 700.

"An event space of this size, there's a lot of potential for us to be able to hold events here," Fukala said. "For example, for our own high schools to be able to hold proms here, which has not been a possibility ever since the time I graduated. That's a great opportunity to be considering."

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