Work starting on French Lick Resort expansion

By The Associated Press

FRENCH LICK — Work is starting on a $15.5 million expansion of the events center at the French Lick Resort in southern Indiana.

A ceremony was held Monday to mark the beginning of construction at the resort that includes Orange County’s casino and the historic French Lick and West Baden Springs hotels.

The expansion expected to open in January 2015 will add nearly 60,000 square feet of space to the resort’s existing 109,000-square-foot conference and event center, The Herald-Times reported.

Expanding the events center will open it up to more companies and organizations, said Steve Ferguson, chairman of French Lick Resort’s parent company, Bloomington-based Cook Group.

“It also allows us to have two different groups at the same time,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity.”

The event center expansion will include eight breakout rooms and a 22,000-square-foot ballroom, larger than the center’s existing 13,000-square-foot ballroom.

Ferguson used Monday’s event as a chance to call for continued development in the French Lick area, which is about 40 miles south of Bloomington.

The existing hotels, meeting space, spas, golfing sites and casino are enough to draw groups for a year to two, but more attractions are needed to keep them coming back, he said.

“It’s really important that all of us continue to work together and think about those other things in the area that expand the opportunities,” he said.

The event center expansion ties into efforts to market the southern Indiana area as a tourism draw, said Becky Skillman, president of the regional economic development group Radius Indiana.

Skillman, a former Indiana lieutenant governor, said she was encouraged that Cook Group was continuing to invest in the French Lick site after company founder Bill Cook, who died in 2011, spent millions of dollars there renovating the two hotels.

“I continue to see Bill Cook’s handprint on projects everywhere I go,” Skillman said. “We are so, so fortunate that we have the family with us and continue to have them involved in our region and in the state.”

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