The Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, the first bona fide hotel to come to downtown Janesville since the end of the Roaring ’20s, opened Friday in Janesville.
Its first guest? An actress. A local actress, sure, but an actress all the same.
At 2 p.m. sharp Friday, Claudine Manor of Janesville checked in at the hotel’s stone-and-tile lobby at 20 W. Milwaukee St. while Cobblestone regional executives looked on and staff bustled beyond bright green doors leading into the hotel’s attached restaurant and lounge, the Wissota Chophouse.
Manor, an employee of Forward Janesville, has an acting role this weekend in “When I Go,” a locally written play running at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
Manor booked a room at the 53-room hotel for her family, who Manor said is traveling from Bettendorf, Iowa, to see her perform.
Her family’s weekend stay at the riverfront boutique hotel illustrates a symbiosis that Cobblestone hopes can fuel its business in Janesville—a blend of local customers and visitors who come for downtown tourist attractions and events.
Brian Milleville, Cobblestone’s regional director of operations, said his Neenah-based hotel group has opted to locate many of its hotels in downtown areas because the company wants to be firmly rooted in the core of a community.
“We don’t really locate next to Interstates. We want to be right in the mix, the community itself,” he said.
Milleville pointed to a huge photo mural on the lobby wall—a black-and-white image of Janesville Fire Department officials assembled in front of downtown buildings.
“We take that kind of thing and bring it into ourselves. Try to become part of it. You do feed off each other that way,” Milleville said.
Downtown Janesville is in the midst of a multiphase revitalization along the Rock River powered by the city of Janesville and private entities. Under the ARISE plan, downtown has seen multimillion dollar investments in infrastructure, new park space, and renovation of storefronts for apartments, new retail stores and restaurants.
Manor said Forward Janesville, the local chamber of commerce, believes the $6.7 million Cobblestone is a centerpiece of downtown’s revival—a future destination for street festivals, events and, Manor hopes, continued revitalization of older commercial buildings along West Milwaukee Street.
“I think that’s the long-term hope, you know? How many more things can we bring through this downtown revitalization and everything we’re doing? How many more things can we get to happen downtown and draw people to our downtown? The pieces are here,” Manor said. “There is no reason why Janesville can’t be a destination location for a weekend getaway or a long weekend.”
Mary Beth Buonincontro, Cobblestone’s director of sales, said the Cobblestone is geared toward corporate guests during the weekdays. She said the company already has worked on partnerships with local companies that would have short-term and longer-term guests stay there, including Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center and white-collar downtown firms such as SHINE Medical Technologies and insurance development company SASid.
The hotel has a number of extended-stay rooms, with kitchens and refrigerators, split off from the more traditional hotel rooms.
On weekends, Buonincontro said, the hotel’s occupancy likely will tilt toward tourists and people in town for weddings and other events.
Calvin Klapa, director of Cobblestone’s five Wissota Chophouse locations, watched the new Wissota staff get ready for its grand opening Friday afternoon. He said several locals made reservations for Friday happy hour.
Klapa said he hopes the steak and seafood restaurant lures a blend of downtown businesspeople, local residents and hotel guests. The last few years, downtown Janesville has cultivated a number of restaurants that eschew the burger-and-beer formula, but it’s likely few places serve rabbit wontons or grilled octopus—just two of many items on the menu at Wissota.
Above Klapa was a portrait of Wissota’s de facto mascot, a Holstein cow that Klapa said Cobblestone’s owners have dubbed “Randall” for no particular reason. On the way into Janesville, Klapa said he noticed the fiberglass “Bessie the Cow” statue along Milton Avenue. It led him to believe that Cobblestone and Wissota and Janesville are a good match.
“I think that Randall and Bessie are going to become ‘Bessie’ friends—sorry, dad joke,” Klapa said. “But no. Things like that, it feels like it’s going to be really easy for us to try to fit in here.”