Sunday, February 19, 2017
For much of the 20th century, the Skirvin Hotel was the top destination for presidents and celebrities as well as a favorite gathering spot for locals.
The hotel, featuring neo-Georgian architecture, oak paneling and Venetian crystal chandeliers, was considered the state's finest when it opened in 1911. Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan spent the night at the hotel, as did Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Joe Namath and Jimmy Hoffa.
But in 1988, when downtown was at its darkest, the lights went out at the Skirvin as well. For 18 years, locals wondered if it would ever come back to life.
It took an unprecedented effort by the city along with Milwaukee-based Marcus Hotels and Resorts to do just that — and a decade later, the deal that was done is being hailed as a success.
This week, 10 years ago, the community gathered to celebrate the hotel's reopening as a Hilton.
The city, which contributed heavily to the $54 million renovation, is well on its way to recouping its money.
The hotel is once again the place to see and be seen, with guests including former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, former president Bill Clinton, acting legends Richard Dreyfuss and Kristen Chenoweth, and an array of NBA stars including LeBron James, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry.
No sure bet
As this turnaround story is celebrated, the tale includes plenty of moments in which those who worked long hours to make it happen feared it would all fall apart, dooming the landmark to a darker fate.
Plenty of people doubted the Skirvin could be reopened after it closed in 1988.
It was former Mayor Kirk Humphreys who stood inside the then-new addition to the Cox Convention Center in 1998 and concluded the effort to revive downtown would never be realized as long as a landmark like the Skirvin stood neglected and boarded up.