Week brings glimmers of hope for area boutique hotels

The 65-room Hotel Millwright in Amana combines history and modern industrial design. The hotel will host grand opening celebrations Oct. 21. CREDIT AMANA SOCIETY

The hospitality industry at large has been wracked with forced closures, layoffs and a sharp decline in bookings as the coronavirus pandemic lingers on, but this week brought some signs of hope for three area boutique hotels, including two that are opening at the height of the outbreak.

The Hotel Millwright, set for an Oct. 21 grand opening in the Amana Colonies, reports it is at nearly 100% occupancy for several dates in October and is starting to book rooms and events, weddings and conferences, for the remainder of 2020 and beginning of 2021.

Meanwhile, the Highlander Hotel in Iowa City and the Hotel Grinnell in Grinnell, both owned and operated by hotelier Angela Harrington of Catalyst Development, were awarded Targeted Small Business certificates by the Iowa Economic Development Authority – the only two of 800 statewide awardees in the lodging category.

The program “provides resources to small businesses that are the backbone of Iowa’s economy, helps foster connections between businesses, and raises the profile of our diverse small business owners statewide,” said Debi Durham, executive director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority, in a statement.

Hotel Grinnell is a 45-room hotel, bar/patio and 350-seat event center, an adaptive reuse of the city’s historic 1921 junior high school. The Highlander Hotel, which is hosting a ribbon cutting and open house today at 4 p.m., is an urban resort with 90 hotel rooms, a 450-seat event center, and a pool, courtyard and bar area – an independent, retro revival of the iconic 1967 Highlander Inn.

“It’s an honor to be recognized as one of the almost 700 female owned businesses in the state,” Ms. Harrington said. “Our two independent, boutique hotels really celebrate where they are in the world and the cool vibe people talk about at both is really in the details. It’s those personal touches in the designed environment and our approach to service that make both properties extraordinary.”

To the north, Hotel Millwright operators hope to also offer guests a unique one-of-a-kind experience – and keep strong initial bookings going. The luxury boutique hotel, created from a historic woolen mill that still produces fabric for clothing and linens, offers 65 guest rooms, a regionally inspired restaurant, a craft whiskey bar and unique event opportunities.

“With the addition of Hotel Millwright, the Amana Society aims to introduce a new generation of visitors to the many shopping and hospitality options that the seven villages provide,” the Amana Society said in a release. “From the start, the goal of the Hotel Millwright team has been to blend old with new, which is why they are preserving original mill features such as exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and various mill tools and machines, while incorporating modern guest room and bathroom amenities such as back-lit mirrors, walk-in showers, and luxury shower heads.”

The hotel’s Indigo Room restaurant will offer made-from-scratch breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, and the Electric Thread Social Club bar will offer a wide selection of craft whiskeys and other spirits along with an outdoor patio for al fresco gatherings.