Fourth Ward residents will have a chance to learn more about plans to convert the former King Home into an apartment hotel at a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at the site, 1555 Oak Ave.

The former King Home, 1555 Oak Ave., was once a retirement/assisted living facility. It would be converted to an apartment hotel under a proposal by owner Cameel Halim. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, in whose Fourth Ward the site is located, made a motion at the April 24 Planning & Development Committee meeting to hold off action on the owner’s request for zoning approval until the May 8 P&D meeting.

Meanwhile, Nieuwsma called a meeting for 5 p.m., Saturday, April 29, at the site, to give residents a chance to learn more about the proposal.

In calling for the meeting, Nieuwsma noted that while the owner has requested zoning approval based on regulations applied to an apartment hotel, “it is a hotel, qualifying as an apartment hotel because our code uses that definition as it exists.”

Jonathan Nieuwsma. Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

In that regard, he said, “this is in a residential district, and hotels are not an allowable use, not allowed in a residential district. We used to have one across the street,” he said, referring to the Margarita Inn at 1566 Oak Ave. “It qualified as a hotel, but it’s a rooming house. So as the Fourth Ward council member, I’m not opposed to having a hotel here, but I don’t want to commit to that before we have some more neighborhood engagement.”

Cameel Halim, the applicant on the project, purchased the six-story building in 2017. Formerly known as the James C. King Home, the building for many years was a retirement/assisted living facility operated by the Presbyterian Homes.

Halim is seeking special use zoning to convert the building into a 67-unit apartment hotel complete with kitchenettes, a barbershop, a restaurant and other amenities.

Leonard Clifton (left), director of franchise development for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, and King Home owner Cameel Halim appear before the Planning & Development Committee on April 24. Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

At the April 24 meeting, Halim was accompanied by Leonard Clifton, director of franchise development for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, with whom Halim is partnering. P&D members had raised questions about how the partnership would work at their March 27 meeting.

The apartment hotel would fall under Wyndham’s Hawthorn extended stay brand, Clifford told P&D members. Clifton said Wyndham currently has 72 Hawthorn properties, including six in Illinois.

In all, Wyndham has about 7,000 U.S. properties and roughly 9,000 globally, he said, making it the world’s largest hotel company.

He said the chain has an extensive training program for staff which it puts in place before a property opens.

To qualify as an apartment hotel under city code, at least 25% of the rooms are reserved for occupancy by transient guests.

Clifton suggested “transient” in this case might be a little misleading. “It’s an extended brand stay, typically it’s seven to 10 days,” he told P&D members. “I mean, it is designed for somebody who needs those cooktop [kitchenettes] or somebody that is going to need a washer and dryer, or somebody that is going to need a larger refrigerator rather than the two cubic feet ones that college students have.”

Guests don’t enter into leases as they might at an apartment complex, Clifton said. “But typically it’s seven to 10 days,” and many days, “we have customers that will stay 30 days, 60 days,” he said. “Our sales people will go to … corporations and say ‘Hey, we can do corporate housing for you 30 to 60 days.'”

Halim said he envisioned a balance between long-term and short-term stays. A professor on sabbatical might stay three months. On the other hand, there may be an event such as a football game, where demand is high, “so we don’t want to lose that” business, he said.

“You have to look at the schedule for the whole year … when making arrangements,” he said, “but I just want to assure everybody, this is not a daily hotel.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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