Site Inspection Notes – Hotel Orrington, Evanston, IL

OK, I have to start this post by saying that I was really not looking forward to this site visit, not that I really knew that I was actually going on this site inspection… You see, I was sitting at my desk when the phone rang and a colleague said “get off your butt and get to the Orrington in Evanston”…having known the Orrington I was thinking, “Uggg, what a waste of time, no one wants to go to the Orrington”.

For those of you not familiar with Evanston, the city is the first suburb directly north of Chicago and sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. The term suburb should be used very loosly because Evanston is a big city with a dense population center, tall buildings, elevated CTA trains and all of the big city amenities. Evanston is also home to Northwestern University so it is young and hip and makes people like me feel really old.

I was last at the Orrington about 10 years ago with an association that I worked for, it has been so long that I really don’t remember what I was doing there… I think it might have been a networking thing. I remember not being overly impressed, to me, the Orrington was a run down old battle ax not worthy of the 20 minute trip it was going to take to get me there. I was not thinking that anything would have changed…. my, my, my…oh how I was wrong.

We met with our sales guy, Doug, and he filled us in on what has been happening at the Orrington and apparently, while I was not looking,  they gutted the entire hotel and did a major 34 million dollar renovation that included adding a 9th floor that is strictly meeting space and even includes an amphitheater (a really feaking cool amphitheater, I love amphitheaters).

Seriously, how did I miss a whole floor being put on a building.

What they have created is a meeting planner friendly hotel that includes lots of breakouts, closets to hide your crap, registration areas and interesting spaces.

From the new 9th floor, your attendees can get great views of Chicago and the lake while they are taking a break or between sessions. There is even the opportunity to walk outside on nice days and take in the view from the terrace. An outdoor terrace in an urban setting with views of a giant lake and America’s third largest city with the best skyline in the World (yes, I am biased, but this is my blog, you want to go on about New York’s skyline, get your own blog)……

Here is the little blurb from the Hotel Orrington Website:

Meeting Room and Ninth Floor Conference Center

No matter what you need – whether it be connecting your group to their colleagues or clients via videoconferencing; recording presentations onto CDs and DVDS for future reference; mass producing reports, agendas, and hand-out materials; lightening-speed T-1 Internet service; state-of-the-art built-in audio/visual capabilities, tackable and writable wall surfaces; designated conference planners; climate-controlled conference rooms; and complimentary wireless Internet – the Hilton Orrington/Evanston is at your service to connect you with success.

When it is time to meet in Chicago, put the Hilton Orrington/Evanston at the top of your list. With a new state-of-the-art Chicago meeting facility built to the International Association of Conference Center (IACC) specifications, we offer planners a wonderful new option for their group functions and events in the Evanston, Illinois area.

Our new ninth-floor meeting facility and conference center is the ideal meeting space on Chicago’s North Shore for meetings of any type. Whether it is a week-long seminar, business retreat, or day-long meeting, our facility – with spectacular views of Chicago and Lake Michigan — is top-notch and designed with everything meeting planners seek today including state-of-the-art technology.

We like to think we offer one of the best meeting facilities on Chicago’s North Shore.

In addition, they have a huge ballroom on the second floor with a sweeping staircase and lots of chandelleirs (think wedding, not meeting). The second floor is not my favorite event space in the place, but it is certainly big and can handle any huge groups that you have coming in if they will not fit on the upper floor. I have to add – just because I do not like the second floor space does not mean it is not nice, others may love it. I prefer my meeting rooms to be more stark and modern, others like a more classic feel, this is really a matter of opinion and no one ever said my opinion was any good.

The entire hotel now has that “swanky old feel” with classic styling with lots of tech touches.Think Sinatra meets Blade Runner without the special effects, Harrison Ford, Oligarchy or Cyborgs….

I cannot personally say how the Orrington’s F&B is, I really was their just to see the meeting space but the restaurants look nice and the clientelle all seemed quite happy. Because I was not able to sample, I did some checking with two planners that have done programs there and from what my “insiders” tell me, the F&B department is quite capable and better than most. One of my sources is a real wanker so if he says it is good, it must be. To give you an idea of how critical he is, if he were stoned, he would poo poo Taco Bell.

The guests rooms are all unique (in a good way) due to the buildings historical certification. The owners did not have the chance to gut to the studs and ruin the hip feel by making all of the rooms identical. The rooms feature large baths and closets, some even have really great views of Evanston.

Orrington Hotel Room
It is worth mentioning that the hotel now flies the Hilton Flag  and with that comes a little Hilton Juice… they have to meet standards and from the looks of things, they are probably exceeding every one. I will say it again, I was shocked by the transformation of the Orrington.

Now, my site visit was a fast one, looking at the meeting and event space to see if it would work for an upcoming client event and yes, it is going to work well. Evanston offers a nice mix of restaurants, retail and culture to suit almost any group and the hotel is now above expectations which will please your attendees.

There is always the impression, especially among Chicagoans, that Evanston is not the easiest place to get too, the city is not right off the expressway, the distance from Midway Airport is a little daunting, blah, blah, blah. Evanston is actually only a couple of miles from the Eden’s Expressway and only an El Ride from Downtown Chicago so it is actually convenient to most of the Northern Chicago area so that “you can’t get there from here” crap can be thrown out the window.

Final thought – Any meeting or event professional that is planning an event in the Chicago area and does not want to be downtown should take a closer look at the Orrington.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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