When a revamped French Lick Springs Hotel and a new casino opened ten years ago this month, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in Orange County. The development, followed shortly thereafter by the rebirth of the neighboring historic West Baden Hotel, revived the region’s past with hopes of improving its future. The late Bill Cook and his wife Gayle, along with Bloomington-based Cook Group Inc., invested $560 million on a vision that officials say is providing jobs and improving quality of life in the region. The resort currently has about 1,700 employees, but officials say the impact extends far beyond the properties. "It was Bill’s plan to plant the seed, and it was a big seed, $560 million is a lot of money, and the hope was that it would develop around the resorts," said Vice President of Resort Operations Joe Vezzoso.
In an interview on this weekend’s edition of Inside Indiana Business Television, Vezzoso said the Cook family’s involvement, and projects around the resort, have continued for the past ten years.
The histories of the two hotels date back to 1845. Before re-opening in the spring of 2007, West Baden Hotel had sat idle for 75 years and at one time was in danger of collapsing.
The Cook investment not only saved the historic properties, but set the wheels in motion for numerous new projects, impact and recognition, including:
- Three new hotels, a dozen new restaurants and more recreational opportunities, including zip lines, a local history museum and new winery and distillery
- A $6 million, three-story, mixed-use Town Center, which houses shops, restaurants and apartments, in downtown French Lick
- $110 million in new tax revenues funneled to the communities of French Lick, West Baden, Paoli and Orleans
- Donald Ross Course restored to original 1917 design (2006)
- Nine miles of Mountain Biking Trails added on resort’s 3,200 acres (2007)
- Pete Dye Course opened and was awarded “Best New Course” by three top golf publications (2009)
- PGA Professional National Championship played on The Donald Ross Course (2010)
- French Lick Resort named “Best Historic Resort” by Historic Hotels of America (2013)
- The Legends Championship held on The Pete Dye Course, tournament half million dollars given to Riley Children’s Foundation (2013-2016)
- Historic Trolley service returned to the resort (2014)
- Footgolf launched on The Valley Links Course (2014)
- Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid held on The Pete Dye Course (2015)
- $20-million-dollar Event Center expansion increased meeting space to total of 165,000 sq. ft. (2015)
- Pete Dye Pavilion expanded to serve 300 guests (2016)
- The Stables Pavilion added to increase venue options for groups (2016)
The resort revival has also prompted improvements at the local municipal airport, which estimates nearly 10,000 aircraft have used the facility since 2006, with international visitors coming from India, China and Switzerland, among other countries. Next year, French Lick will celebrate another milestone: the 100th birthday of the resort’s Donald Ross Course.