The former James King Home, which for years offered gracious living for residents in their retirement years, will likely see new life as an apartment hotel after the City Council acted May 22.

City Council members approved owner Cameel Halim’s request for special use zoning to convert the former King Home at 1555 Oak Ave. into an apartment hotel. The vote will allow Halim to move forward on the property he purchased in 2017 and was stymied on developing for several other uses.

“We are so excited to begin work on our apartment hotel, which we believe is needed in Evanston to serve this great town, prestigious university, our museum [Museum of Time] across the street, and to promote tourism and visitors for the great city of Evanston,” he said in a statement May 24.

The former James King Home at 1555 Oak Ave. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

The issue had previously been held in the city’s Planning and Development Committee, with members seeking more details about the applicant’s agreement with Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, with whom the company is partnering.

At the May 8 Planning and Development meeting, Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, in whose Fourth Ward the property is located, indicated he was comfortable moving forward after holding a community meeting April 29 to get residents’ feedback about the project.

Nieuwsma had argued that if the property was run strictly as a hotel, it might not meet zoning requirements, so he wanted to get neighbors’ comments. He said the present zoning code doesn’t allow hotels but does allow apartment hotels.

Broad support

At the community meeting, he reported, “there was pretty broad and strong support for operating as essentially a hotel in that location.”

“And I wasn’t comfortable moving this forward until I had some assurance that the neighborhood was comfortable with an operation like this,” he said. “I now have that comfort that I need to to move this forward.”

Fourth Ward Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma

He also said that as discussions evolved, “it’s become clear that the relationship with Wyndham will provide the oversight and the guidance that I need to make me comfortable that the hotel is being operated at the highest level of professionalism.”

Formerly known as the James King Home, the building for many years was used as a retirement/assisted living facility operated by the Presbyterian Homes.

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

He told council members he envisioned a balance between long-term and short-term stays. A professor on sabbatical, for instance, might stay three months. On the other hand, the apartment hotel could accommodate those in for an event such as a football game.

At the April 24 City Council meeting, Halim was accompanied by Leonard Clifton, director of franchise development for Wyndham. Clifton told council members that the apartment hotel would fall under Wyndham’s Hawthorn brand.

Wyndham has about 7,000 properties stateside and roughly 9,000 globally, he said, making it the world’s largest hotel company. Wyndham is interested in bringing the building under its Hawthorn extended stay brand, Clifton said. He said Wyndham currently has 72 properties which fall in that category, including six in Illinois.

“We are so pleased for the opportunity to work with Wyndham and our plan is to feature suites perfect for extended stays, including fully equipped kitchens, modern bathrooms, living and sleeping quarters,” said Halim, for years one of Evanston’s most active commercial and residential property owners. “We have also planned for numerous meeting and business rooms, a restaurant with access to an outdoor patio facing the magnificent gardens. We are working hard to open this coming October.”

Council members unanimously approved the special request May 22 as part of their consent agenda, which doesn’t require discussion of individual issues.

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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