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Amana hotel project could be a "game changer" for tourism

Ground was broken on Wednesday for a $15-million dollar project to convert old, unused...
Ground was broken on Wednesday for a $15-million dollar project to convert old, unused buildings at the Amana Woolen Mill into a 65-room boutique hotel called Hotel Millwright.(KCRG)
Published: Aug. 1, 2018 at 3:55 PM CDT
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Something very old in the Amana Colonies will soon be new again with a groundbreaking on Wednesday for a boutique hotel and events center.

The $15-million project, called Hotel Millwright, will involve both restoration and remodeling of buildings at the Amana Society’s Woolen Mill. The oldest of the buildings there date to the 1850s.

The project calls for a 65-room boutique hotel as well as an events center and restaurant in converted old mill buildings.

Amana Society leaders say the colonies already rank as one of the top tourist destinations in all of Iowa. But a lot of people visit in daytrips and don’t stay overnight or longer.

The idea of a small modern boutique hotel is to encourage more group and event business and get people to stay for longer visits.

Guy Wendler, vice chairman of the Amana Society board, called it a “game changer” for the area.

“I think it’s going to lead to new businesses here and more nightlife as well,” Wendler said.

While the ceremonial groundbreaking was over in seconds, the project itself was literally years in the making.

One big question was how to preserve the character of 160-year-old buildings while still making them function for modern uses.

The woolen mill stopped production of wool yarn in the 1980s and the businesses there now include weaving of blankets and other woolen products and a retail shop.

The building housing the retail shop is more modern and will be demolished to clear space for the project.

The current weaving operation and retail sales will move to other areas but continue during construction.

Shawna Lode, with the Iowa Tourism Office, predicts a statewide impact from the Amana project.

“Statewide, tourism is an eight billion dollar industry. So this will only grow that industry and again give people a reason to stay a little longer in our state,” she said.

The project is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete. So that should mean a grand opening sometime in 2020.