Rockford, Illinois Gains First Full-Service Convention Hotel, Plays to Drive-In Market
Opening a new convention hotel in the middle of a pandemic may sound preposterous to some. Yet things went on as planned in Rockford, Illinois, which opened the brand-new Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront in early July.
The new hotel is the first full-service property in the Rockford area and located in the center of downtown, which has seen a lot of activity over recent years—think new breweries, restaurants, UW Health Sports Factory and the 2013 renovation of BMO Harris Bank Center. “Talk about a gamechanger in terms of making our downtown a destination,” says Nick Povalitis, vice president of marketing for Rockford Area CVB (RACVB).
With 160 guest rooms and just under 23,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, the hotel is able to accommodate up to 550 guests. (Currently, Illinois state guidelines allow a maximum of 50 people per event or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less). The affordability of Rockford, especially compared to nearby Chicago, bolsters its attractiveness as a meetings destination for whenever groups are ready to return, says Povalitis. Larger room types, like two-room suites, also play into the greater current trend of work-from-hotels, while the brand’s signature free breakfast is served at socially distanced tables.
In September, the hotel debuted its new indoor/outdoor rooftop restaurant and bar, providing another space available for private rental. The Top, located on the 12th floor, provides one-of-a-kind views of downtown and the Rock River. Other on-site dining options include Tower Tap and Grill, serving American food adjacent Davis Park; and a second location of the local favorite Rockford Roasting Co. is opening on the ground floor this fall.
Opening amidst great uncertainty in 2020 is proving rewarding, at least so far. “You could argue it’s a bad time, or you could say it’s part of our rebirth,” says Povalitis. The Illinois Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, Illinois Council of Convention & Visitors Bureaus and Rotary International have all booked meetings with the Embassy Suites for 2021. The fact that Rockford is an easy drive market for cities like Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and St. Paul has helped, Povalitis adds.
In October, RACVB will bring back Home with the FAM, a virtual familiarization tour for event operators, to showcase the new Embassy Suites and the region at large as a destination for group travel in 2021. Set for Oct. 8 at 1:00 p.m. CT, the webinar is free to attend (register here). RACVB's first virtual site visit, in mid-April, welcomed more than 80 attendees.
Looking ahead to Q4 of this year and beyond, Povalitis is optimistic about what the future holds for Rockford and events. “While our budget and programs have been reduced drastically since the beginning of the pandemic, we are still having success rescheduling and booking new tourism events at venues across Winnebago County," he says. "This second Home with the FAM will enhance that success as we prepare to share more good news soon.”