Looking Ahead: You Can't Spell 'Hotel' Without 'Hot'
as tourist industry grows, Valley will welcome five new inns
Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to call 2016 the “Year of the Hotel” in the Chippewa Valley. After all, we’ve had hotels around here since Eau Claire was born 160 years ago. Nonetheless, the label has some merit. If all things go as planned, the Eau Claire area will see five new lodging establishments open (or re-open) this year: The Lismore, formerly the Ramada Inn on South Barstow Street; the Oxbow, formerly the Green Tree Inn, a few blocks away; the Fairfield Inn & Suites at the interchange of U.S. 53 and the North Crossing; the Staybridge Suites in Altoona’s River Prairie development, just east of Eau Claire; and the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites on Bridge Street in Chippewa Falls.
Excluding for a moment the Chippewa Falls hotel and its 45 rooms, the four new hotels in Eau Claire County alone will add 367 new rooms to the 2,000 already provided by hotels and motels in the area served by Visit Eau Claire, the regional tourism promotion group.
Having shiny new hotels might be nice for visitors, you say, but what about the proprietors of those existing 2,000 rooms? Won’t business simply shift from existing hotels to new ones? Not necessarily, says Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John.
“There are many weekends of the year when we need more inventory in the market,” John explains. Especially during major music festivals and sports tournaments, she says, “There are times when we literally need more rooms.” Overall, tourism is a growing business in the Chippewa Valley, which increases demand for accommodations as well.
Two of the hotels – The Lismore, which is expected to open in April, and The Oxbow, whose owners are aiming for August – will fill an important gap, namely the lack of overnight accommodations in downtown Eau Claire.
“It’s pretty acute,” John says of the need for downtown rooms. “There’s definitely growing, pent-up demand for convention business. State associations are looking for a downtown location.” With its remodeled convention space, which is already in use, The Lismore will help meet this demand. John says she has fielded unsolicited calls from groups wanting to hold conventions at The Lismore.
“We have designed the restaurant, coffee shop, and bar with locals in mind first.” – Zach Halmstad of Pablo Properties, which owns The Lismore
The two downtown hotels will also provide other amenities lacking in the market, many of which will appeal to locals and travelers alike. “We have designed the restaurant, coffee shop, and bar with locals in mind first,” says Zach Halmstad of Pablo Properties, which owns the hotel. The Lismore’s restaurant will be named The Informalist, which “will focus on locally sourced food and a great wine menu in a contemporary casual setting,” Halmstad says. It will feature a penny-topped bar overlooking the kitchen, a wood-fired pizza oven, and will be open seven days a week. The hotel will also feature a second-floor bar, dubbed simply Dive, which will be where the hotel’s pool used to be. In addition to craft cocktails, Dive will feature glass walls and a walkout to a rooftop patio with views of downtown.
The hotel will include 112 rooms, including five one-bedroom suites and two two-bedroom suites. “This renovation is creating a building that is modern with hints of raw industrial charm inside and out,” says Julia Johnson, also of Pablo Properties. “It will certainly be a different feel from some our favorite haunts with walls full of old relics to stare at, but we tried to offer something different focused on the beauty of natural materials, without getting too contemporary or out-of-place for Eau Claire.”
Elsewhere in downtown Eau Claire, the 30-room Oxbow – whose ownership group includes Halmstad as well as Volume One editor/publisher Nick Meyer, Eau Claire Regional Arts Center director Ben Richgruber, and Grammy-winning musician Justin Vernon – will offer a “boutique” experience, including a regionally flavored restaurant created by local chef Nathan Berg; a bar and jazz club; an in-house art gallery; and canoe, tube, kayak, and bike rentals just a few dozen yards from the downtown’s rivers and bike trails. Renovation began in earnest in the fall, and the owners aim to open the hotel by the second annual Eaux Claires Music & Arts festival this August.
The area’s other new hotels will be affiliated with major brands. The 90-unit Fairfield Inn & Suites, a franchise of Marriott, is slated to open this spring on the northeast side of Eau Claire in the Princeton Crossing development. The hotel is being developed by Haselwander Companies.
About a mile further south on U.S. 53, the 120-room Staybridge Suites is being built in the northwest quadrant of the River Prairie Development, which straddles U.S. 53. The 90,000-square-foot facility, which is being developed by Larson Companies, will cater to business and extended-stay travelers when it opens in July.
Meanwhile, in Chippewa Falls, ground was broken in early January for the Cobblestone Hotel, which is part of a Neenah-based chain of 74 hotels in 12 states. The Cobblestone will be built on the former site of the Plaza Building on Bridge Street at the entrance to the Chippewa Falls downtown. It’s expected to open in August.