THE VACATED RENAISSANCE HOTEL had spent the past three years empty, abandoned and looking completely out of place within the thriving Oakbrook Center, a high-end shopping district located just west of Chicago. That is, until Paris-born hotel Le Méridien moved in.
After nearly $25 million in much-needed renovations to the property, Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center opened its doors last fall and was quickly ready to unveil all that the luxury hotel had to offer at a special First Night grand opening celebration on September 9. The night offered tours throughout the modern property showcasing Chicago-inspired décor and curated local art, a thriving lobby Hub with a daytime café and nighttime bar, and a set of top-floor spa suites. As well, there were bites from new in-house Spanish restaurant El Tapeo and a live performance by the brand’s house band, French bossa nova act Nouvelle Vague (their curated playlist is also played daily on each floor).
“The goal of the First Night Event was to expose our community and our customers to Le Méridien as a brand and Chicago/Oakbrook as a destination,” explains Katie Davis, director of sales and marketing for the property. “We wanted a chic and sophisticated arrival experience and an engaging personal welcome for each of our guests.”
The team achieved it with a formal red carpet ushering in a total of 150 attendees made up of local industry partners, government officials and current customers. “This was a customer-focused event,” explains Davis. “Invitations were sent to customers that we currently do business with and those that we hope to do business with in the future.”
The night’s festivities took place in the hotel’s ninth floor ballroom and began with passed wine and chef-manned food stations before opening remarks from Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center General Manager Simon Fricker, Ohio-based Rockbridge President and CEO Jim Merkel, New York based Starwood VP of Brand Management Anthony Ingham and Starwood VP of Brand Management Paul Wischermann, who came in from his offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Le Méridien is one of the nine brands of Starwood Hotels (others include Westin, Sheraton, W, St. Regis etc.), and Rockbridge Capital, a private equity firm, is the ownership group of Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center.
“It’s always challenging to stop a party for speeches,” says Davis. “Sometimes the energy can be affected by a halt in the action, but we were fortunate enough to have the Nouvelle Vague performance immediately after, which brought the energy back up immediately.”
You might imagine getting a band based in Paris to Oakbrook was the biggest challenge of staging the concert, but that was the easy part, says Davis. “Coordinating a live concert within our intimate meeting space was not easy,” she says. “Being new to the building, we were unsure of our capabilities in terms of power and lighting. My biggest nightmare was a blown circuit during the performance. The image of this gave me many sleepless nights!” But the show went off without a hitch, thanks to Presentation Services (PSAV), which helped to man the production and lighting needs throughout the night.
Perhaps the most popular, yet unexpected, aspect of the evening was an interactive art installation from Chicago native Justus Roe, who also created the high-impact visuals showcased in the Hub. “Justus has a dynamic personality and the ability to make art less intimidating to the novice,” explains Davis. “With multiple canvases to choose from, guests were invited to participate in the creation of art installations. Being able to watch our guests interact with him was such a thrill.”
Artwork was not just for show, though; it’s a major platform for the hotel brand that partners with a local museum in each city where it’s based. “Le Méridien’s brand passions revolve around culture, focusing on the arts and cuisine along with a commitment to the highest standards of service,” says Davis. “This distilled vision creates clear pathways for discovery.”