Hotel Grinnell

Preservation at its Best 2018, Large Commercial: Hotel Grinnell (Grinnell)

Hotel Grinnell is a 45-room boutique hotel that includes a 300 seat ballroom, a 450 seat auditorium, a lobby bar and outdoor patio. The project is an adaptive reuse of the city’s 1921 Junior High School in the center of downtown Grinnell.  

Hotel Grinnell exterior, 2018 Preservation at Its Best

The school was abandoned by the school district and gifted to the city in 1978. The city converted the classrooms into office space. Using 1970’s sensibilities, acoustical ceiling tile was added and hardwood and terrazzo floors were carpeted-over. The fundraising and design for the project began in 2009, but construction and renovation of the 65,000 square foot building did not start until October of 2016.   

The classrooms were converted to hotel rooms, their hardwood floors, original to 1921 restored.  Acoustic ceiling tile was removed and original ceiling heights and window configurations restored. Lockers were re-purposed and made into end-of-bed benches in some rooms.  Chalk boards adorn every room and hang in the bar. Corridors were restored to their original width and the former school kitchen is now a prep / catering kitchen. The terrazzo floors original to the school have been restored where possible in public spaces and hallways. 

Major challenges were in adding plumbing and hvac to accommodate a modern hotel with individual bathrooms and heating/cooling control.  Extraordinary measures were taken to use local contractors in order to maximize the local economic impact of the project.  

The community restrooms added in the 70’s were converted to the hotel’s bar, the gyms 50+ year old scoreboard adorns the wall in the bar. 

Hotel Grinnell lobby, 2018 Preservation at Its Best

The old gymnasium is now the hotel’s ballroom and home to weddings and other events.  The original hardwood floor was restored. The building’s historic 400 seat theater was restored and doubles as a public performance venue and conference venue.  

The project and owner received Iowa’s Impact Award for inspiring community growth and achieving the impossible – bringing a boutique product to a place where only budget flagged properties exist along the Interstate. 

The project was funded with private equity, historic tax credits, the Iowa Reinvestment Act, local motel tax, property tax reimbursement over time (TIFF) and a large bridge loan. 

Preservation Iowa’s two most visible programs are Iowa’s Most Endangered and Preservation at Its Best. These two programs work well together because being listed as Most Endangered often times leads to awareness, a preservation effort, and a high-quality, award winning project.

The full list of Preservation Iowa’s 2018 Preservation at its Best award winners includes: