BY ANTHONY SCHOETTE
Indianapolis Business Journal
On a sunny day in June 2015, Cook Group Vice President Chuck Franz marveled as more than 300 Porsches rolled down tiny French Lick’s main thoroughfare.
“Bill Cook did it,” Franz said he thought to himself at the time. “He created a traffic jam in French Lick, Indiana.”
The Porsche Club of America had bought out the entire French Lick Resort — including all the rooms in its historic French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels as well as all of its meeting spaces.
The gathering — was in upscale Monterey, California, the previous year — drew more than 2,000 people to the southern Indiana town for the 10-day event.
It was an awakening for Franz and the staff of the French Lick Resort, which is owned by Cook Group and was a personal project of its late owner, Bill Cook. Until then, the French Lick folks didn’t know they could pull off something so big.
The Porsche confab came on the heels of a $19 million, 60,000-square-foot expansion of the resort’s event center, which now boasts 158,000 total square feet and is one of the largest privately owned event centers in Indiana. The event also came just two weeks after the resort’s Pete Dye-designed golf course hosted the Senior PGA Championship.
“We proved a lot to ourselves in terms of what we could do,” Franz told IBJ from the executive offices at the resort, where he serves as operations adviser. “We really got this staff geared up for those two events and it helped them understand that we’re moving to a whole new level.”
Now, Franz and his team — out of pride and necessity — are trying to spread that message to a wider audience.
At a time when revenue from its work horse — a casino that opened in late 2006 — remains unpredictable, French Lick Resort is rolling the dice on a new strategy: one built on pursuing group sales to increase bookings at the resort and build exposure that will bring guests back for leisure visits.
It’s already paying dividends.
Since expanding its event center in December 2014, group business at the French Lick Resort has grown 50 percent, which has helped boost occupancy during weekdays when leisure travel is soft.
“When groups come here, the one thing we hear more than anything else is, ‘I never knew,’” said Chris Leininger, French Lick Resort’s chief operating officer. “We’re confident the more group business we can secure, the more leisure and casino business we can generate.”