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Hotel Grinnell owner sets sights on Iowa City

Angela Harrington will open another hotel in Iowa City. Photo contributed by Angela Harrington.

As a successful boutique hotel owner, Angela Harrington is leaving a significant mark on the state’s hospitality industry by creating unique hotels that celebrate the communities around them.

In 2009, when Harrington began renovations on what is now Hotel Grinnell, she understood the challenge ahead of her. The “adaptive reuse” of Grinnell’s old school building required Harrington to completely reimagine and redesign the building’s interior to create a functional hotel. Despite the challenge, Harrington’s experience with Hotel Grinnell was so successful that she’s taken on her next project: a renovation of Iowa City’s Clarion Highlander Hotel and Conference Center which she is renaming The Bohemian. 

“I really need to scale … [because] I need more than 45 rooms to do what I do in Grinnell really well,” said Harrington.

 Despite her desire to grow beyond the confines of Hotel Grinnell, Harrington plans to still split her time between the two businesses. “It’s only 50 minutes away from Hotel Grinnell, so I can still stay really hands on [in both locations],” said Harrington. Additionally, Harrington believes that Hotel Grinnell’s established customer base—including their 10,000-subscriber email newsletter—could initially serve as a launching pad to market The Bohemian organically. 

So, what does this new hotel have to offer? Quite a lot, actually. The 65,000 square foot property boasts 90 guest rooms, two large event halls, an expansive outdoor courtyard and the largest hotel pool in Iowa City. While the larger ballroom will be retained for events, the smaller event space will likely be leased to a “synergistic tenant,” according to an early November press release about the renovations. Instead of committing to having a restaurant in the space, Harrington is also considering a spa – something she believes can make the building feel more like a resort, rather than a typical hotel. Harrington also plans to use the hotel’s outdoor courtyard as a fun spot where people can relax, unwind and play games with others. 

“I’m really into doing whatever I can to create vitality, because that’s really the holy grail in towns,” said Harrington. As she enters this new project, Harrington believes that it provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the history and culture of the surrounding community. 

“My favorite part is telling the story … and this one just felt like ‘Oh my god, we’ve got a story to tell here,” said Harrington. “[Back in the day] this hotel, the Highlander, was the deal. All of the celebrities, pro golfers … when anyone who was anyone came to town it was the place to stay.” Harrington hopes that her 70s design theme will rekindle memories and nostalgia of the hotel’s heyday. “I want to celebrate the cool stuff that went on in the 70s, in Iowa City and just the 70s in general,” said Harrington. 

Additionally, The Bohemian, like Hotel Grinnell, will also be an environmentally conscious hotel. While describing the entire renovation as a “recycling project,” Harrington said that guests will notice small touches in rooms, such as bamboo toilet paper, in-room recycling and built in shampoo dispensers as markers of the hotel’s sustainability efforts.

 “Having the [hotel] be eco-conscious and also socially-conscious … I feel really passionate about those things,” said Harrington. Given her past sustainability efforts, it’s clear that Harrington is using the hospitality industry to help her make a difference. “I love the hospitality industry … more than anything else I’ve done in my career … I’m more excited about it today than when I signed the papers to buy the hotel in Grinnell,” said Harrington, and her journey is far from over. “I want to have five [hotels] in the end before I’m done,” added Harrington. 

And if Hotel Grinnell can serve as any benchmark for Harrington’s ability to get a project done, the sky is the limit. The Bohemian will remain open to guests throughout the renovations, which are scheduled to begin in late December 2019 and conclude by May 2020. 

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