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The story behind the Drake Hotel

Jim Nagle, developer and owner of the Drake Hotel in Oak Brook, talks about the makeover

October 04, 2015

  • Configuración de mesa en el Drake Hotel en Oak Brook.
    Table setting at the Drake Hotel in Oak Brook.
  • El renovado Drake Hotel en Oak Brook incluye una colorida escultura de vidrio en el techo de una área para sentarse.
    The renovated Drake Hotel in Oak Brook includes a colorful glass sculpture on the ceiling of a seating area.
  • Jim y Tely Nagle remodelaron el Drake Hotel en Oak Brook.
    Jim y Tely Nagle remodeled the Drake Hotel in Oak Brook.
  • El Drake Hotel es propiedad de Jim y Tely Nagle.
    The Drake Hotel is owned by Jim and Tely Nagle.

An interview with Jim Nagle, developer and owner of the Drake Hotel in Oak Brook.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the history and how you became involved with the Drake in Oak Brook.

A: The hotel opened in 1961 as the suburban counterpart to the iconic Drake Hotel on Michigan Avenue. The hotels were owned and operated by the same people for decades. I purchased the suburban property with my wife, Tely Nagle in 2013.

Q: You and your wife handled the multimillion renovation in a nontraditional way?

A: This was by no means not your typical hotel deal. In today’s industry you will see a private equity firm purchase a hotel with their team of finance people and lawyers putting the deal together. Next an architect and design firm prepare drawings and these drawings will be tendered for bid and a project manager will be hired. The project manager brings in a general contractor who brings in a myriad subcontractors. When the construction is near complete, an interior design firm will be hired and then a purchasing agent to furnish the property. If the property has any land an outside design landscape firm will also prepare drawings which will be implemented by an outside landscaping contractor. All of the above work was done by my wife and myself. Of course I had a crew of 10 construction workers that performed all of the physical work with me. I used very few outside subcontractors. But virtually everything in the hotel has been renovated or refurbished. All of the oak woodwork, the plaster walls, the marble floors, the bathrooms, the ceilings; everything you can see and of course everything behind the walls have been redone — the plumbing, the electric the heating and cooling, the mechanicals of the elevators.

Q: And Tely assisted in the design?

A: Yes. Tely is originally from Mexico and her uncle has a high position within the Catholic Church. When Pope John Paul II would visit Mexico, he would buy carved wood pieces for the Vatican. The same artist who the Pope commissioned to create pieces for him has created the art table in the lobby, the vanity in the women’s rest room and the crown molding above the art table at the Drake. The measurements of the entryway were sent to Mexico in order for the crown molding to be carved. Once arrived, the crown molding did not fit correctly. Normally it is possible to trim the corners so they can fit together, but if you look at the design, there is a leaf carved into the corner, so it would have been ruined. In order to make it fit, the ceiling was raised.

Q: And the exterior?

A: We have complemented all of the banquet space with adjacent outdoor venues. The Three Oaks Room which hosted thousands of events now has a beautiful new covered veranda that overlooks a beautiful new 20-foot water fountain. We have just resurfaced the tennis courts and have added an outdoor venue for weddings. We have all kinds of new areas for outdoor dining.

Q: You have early memories of the property. Tell us about that.

A: I was first introduced to the Drake when my grandfather took us here for Easter Sunday in the late 1960s. He would rent the banquet room on the ground floor. Growing up in Elmhurst, I can still remember running around the hallways with my brother, sisters and cousins. That banquet room is now named after my grandfather. I have also renamed the directors room by the lobby the Gino DiRenzo board room. It became apparent to me very quickly after my wife and I purchased the hotel that Gino was the engine of this hotel from the day it opened until the day it closed. Every day people visit asking about Gino.

Q: Tell us about your career.

A: I was a trial lawyer for more than 20 years. I began purchasing commercial real estate 17 years ago. By 2008, I had accumulated more than 1,000,000 square feet of commercial property. Unfortunately, I had also rung up millions of dollars in mortgage loans. By 2009 I had more than 70 percent vacancy. I left my law practice and fired the leasing and management companies and was fortunate enough to lease the space myself. The banks, however, were still not lending at that time which prevented me from obtaining construction loans to build out the space. I took my maintenance men and we began constructing the space ourselves. Six years later I had built out a 240,000 square foot retail center, several apartment buildings, a 40,000 square foot car dealer which I converted to a banquet hall, more than 100 apartment units and several office buildings for the state of Indiana.

Q: So things started turning around?

A: Just 30 days before the Drake Oak Brook deal was presented to me, we had paid off a $13 million dollar judgment against me personally. I was able to do this because my properties were now leased and I was able to either sell them or refinance them to satisfy the judgment which included $1 million to the bank’s attorneys that were suing me.

Q: How did this change your way of thinking?

A: My wife and I promised we would never borrow another penny the rest of our lives.

Q: Describe what happened.

A: Looking back at the past 10 years, I can truly say that it has been a humbling experience. Humbling in the sense that when I was practicing law and buying real estate before the crash I had accumulated financial wealth. The entire process definitely made me re-evaluate everything — my goals, priorities, my faith. I hope and pray it made me a better man.

Q: You feel a connection here?

A: I think the Drake Oak Brook personifies me. We are both the same age, 53. For decades it was smooth sailing, no problems. Then in 2008 we were both knocked down hard. The rest of the world wrote us off saying that our best days were behind us. The Drake and I were reacquainted in 2013. At that time we were both beaten up and written off. Now here we are today, still standing, better then ever, with the best yet to come.

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