BY MIKE LEONARD
When the Louisville Concours d’Elegance decided to have its 2013 classic car show at the West Baden Springs Hotel last October, it brought in 125 collector automobiles valued at more than $100 million and the kind of sophisticated and discerning clientele that the resort is looking to attract.
But when rain threatened to put a damper on the outdoor show — which featured such classic cars as the first Shelby Mustang GT350 ever produced, a 1931 Auburn 898 Cabriolet, and a 1934 Duesenberg Walker — resort managers had a ready plan B: move the show into the 31,000-square-foot indoor Sports & Exhibit Center at West Baden’s sister property, the French Lick Springs Hotel.
“They were ecstatic that we had this option,” says Kim Gray, director of marketing. “They said it was very rare to have a place to put that many cars under one roof.”
And the capability for larger conferences and exhibitions is only going to improve with a $15.5 million, 58,000-square-foot addition to the French Lick space underway and targeted for completion by January 1, 2015.
Awards and recognition have been rolling in regularly since the French Lick and West Baden Springs hotels underwent a $560 million renovation and combined as the French Lick Resort in 2007. Named “Best Historic Resort” by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the resort also has been cited among the “Top 50 Hotel Spas in the United States” by readers of Conde Nast Traveler. The resort’s Pete Dye and Donald Ross golf courses ranked No. 27 and 48, respectively, in Golfweek’s top 100 Best Resort Courses for 2014, beating out such distinguished company as the PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Golfers and golf aficionados continue to learn about French Lick through activities including the Big Ten Women’s and Men’s golf championships this April and May, The Legends Championship on the Pete Dye Course in August, and the 2015 Senior PGA Championship in May, 2015.
“It’s a big stretch to go from off the radar to where we are now,” says Kris Gebhardt, the Bloomington-based artist and designer who, with his wife, Angela, designed the world-class spas at both resort properties as well as the reproduction of historic artwork in the hallways, guestrooms, and common areas. “You get a history lesson just walking down the halls,” he says.