While many dual-brand hotel developments are built from scratch, the Voco Chicago Downtown and Holiday Inn Chicago Downtown - Wolf Point developed more organically. The former Holiday Inn that had been in the neighborhood for 40 years underwent a major renovation to add the Voco component—becoming IHG’s first combination of the two flags and the first Voco in Chicago.
Design firm Gensler came onboard when Rick Fawell, the company’s regional hospitality leader and senior project director, met with Steve Steinburg, managing director at Murphy Asset Management, which was overseeing the new dual-brand. In early 2021, he recalled, the design firm convinced the management company that they should collaborate on revitalizing the hotel as part of the Wolf Point neighborhood’s revitalization. “We walked them through our list of due-diligence items and reviewed the scope of their budget,” he said.
While the Holiday Inn was already established in the building, the Gensler team wanted to “elevate the brand,” said Lori Mukoyama, design director and principal at the firm. As the idea of turning the property into a dual-brand took shape, IHG came on board to discuss possibilities and The Walsh Group joined as general contractor. Seeking a brand to complement the legacy hotel, the teams finally settled on the conversion Voco brand, which had launched in 2018 and had only 19 hotels open at the time. “Voco is such a boutique brand, and it's something that's not happening in every city,” Mukoyama said. “We thought this would be a perfect pairing.”
The conversion began in the summer of 2021 and the design firm got to work. The property opened in November 2022, its 521 rooms taking up 10 floors of the building.
Mukoyama said the neighborhood used to be “really quiet” and not “active at all,” but after undergoing a “facelift” it was seeing more traffic from locals and guests alike. The new vibe, she continued, needed to extend into the building. “Before, [the reception area] was hidden away, up on a top-level floor,” she recalled. Now that the area is more activated, the facility was brought down to the first floor of the building, with floor-to-ceiling windows showing off the reception desk. “This has really changed the whole presence of the hotel,” Mukoyama said.
To make the dual-brand nature of the hotel clear even to pedestrians outside, Gensler gave the reception area two colors—emerald green for Holiday Inn and a bright blue for Voco. The colors are echoed in other spaces throughout the hotel, with different shades and ombre effects creating visual complexity. “Nothing is just one layer on its own,” Mukoyama said. “Everything is really multidimensional.”
While the Holiday Inn rooms were designed to meet the brand standards, the Voco brand is more focused on personality. “There's nothing that actually ties [Voco hotels] together except for their personality,” Mukoyama said. “They love to have a little bit of a taste of the culture or a pull from the city that they're in.” As such, the Gensler team “played with art” for the Voco rooms and used “strong geometric lines” for the decor to evoke the city’s skyline and street grid.
A set of offices on the 15th floor were converted into seating for the on-site bar and restaurant with large windows overlooking the city and the river. “That was the first thing we did when we walked that site,” Mukoyama recalled. The team emphasized “transparency and openness” in the space, not only with views to the water but to the other buildings in the area. “What we wanted to do was create a hub of activity,” she said, noting that the windows could help attract both residents and workers from the surrounding apartment and office buildings.
“Everybody deserves great design, whether you're spending $50 or $200.” — Lori Mukoyama, design director and principal, Gensler
Voco Chicago Downtown and Holiday Inn Chicago Downtown - Wolf Point
The hotel is directly attached to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart and is close to Millennium Park, the Magnificent Mile, Fulton Market, Navy Pier and the West Loop. The property is also a five-minute drive from the Ogilvie Transportation Center, the second busiest rail station in Chicago.
NUMBER OF ROOMS
Holiday Inn: 228
Murphy Development Group
Murphy Asset Management
Working within the project’s budget proved challenging as the conversion progressed. “There are all these large open spaces, so to canvas all this with a new material or a new paint obviously cost a lot more than than typical,” Mukoyama said. To make each dollar go as far as possible, particularly in the ninth-floor atrium and other open spaces, the team played with scale, creating seating zones and adding splashes of color. “We wanted everything to look beautiful when you're on the top floors looking down,” she added.