The chief information officer of Bloomington-based Cook Group Inc. says a more than $5 million investment in more renovation projects at the French Lick Resort is a "no-brainer" response to evolving customer demand. Chuck Franz says the need for a dedicated exhibit hall, special event facility and additional restaurant space was triggered by increased interest from groups following the $20 million expansion of the 163,000-square-foot Meeting and Event Center three-and-a-half years ago. "That really changed our business down here," Franz told Inside INdiana Business. "We’ve actually increased our group rooms annually by 50 percent — or up (to) over 60,000 group-room-nights a year."
He added the influx of groups has strained availability elsewhere at the resort. Franz says meeting space has been occupied by the exhibitors that come along with larger groups and transforming the old Valley Links Golf and Activities Center, which included several indoor tennis courts, into an exhibitors hall will help address the issue. The second major leg of the work is transitioning the former Billiard and Bowling Pavilion, which is located next to the West Baden Springs Hotel and was last used 50 years ago, into a place for weddings, dinners, banquets or other special gatherings.
The company’s real estate development affiliate owns the massive Orange County attraction and over the last 12-plus years, has invested more than $600 million through a collaborative venture led by the late Bill and Gayle Cook that has returned the once-crumbling tourist destination that dates back to the mid-1800s to its former glory. "We’ve considered this to be a south central Indiana regional project," Franz said about the resort’s economic impact. "We’ve always approached this — not from a standpoint of just the two towns (French Lick and West Baden Springs) and the two hotels (French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel) — we believe that by restoring it to its grandeur of the past, it was a destination in the past and can be (again), as we’re proving out here."
The Exhibition Hall is expected to open October 1 and Franz says thousands of additional room nights have already been booked because of it. The special event venue, he says, has the potential to help the French Lick Resort become "the wedding destination for maybe a two or three hour area." Construction on it is slated to begin in 2019. More space is also being added to Hagen’s Club House Restaurant and 1875: The Steakhouse to accommodate seating for bigger groups. Once complete, the work to all the facilities is expected to lead to up to 100 new jobs.
You can read more about the latest round of renovations by clicking here.