Star Plaza – a family-owned and -operated establishment since its inception four decades ago – has long stood as an epicenter of hospitality in southeast Chicagoland and beyond. As Merrillville, Indiana’s first branded hospitality enterprise and a major impetus behind the town’s economic development, Star Plaza and its various components originated from the straightforward vision of Mr. Dean White, founder of Whiteco Industries, Inc., in which he set out to create a popular travel destination, particularly for residents of Northwest Indiana.
In 1969, the completion of I-65 through Merrillville facilitated a speedy emergence of the town in the regional market, establishing Merrillville as the “hub” of commercial activities in Northwest Indiana. Meanwhile, Mr. White – at the time, a successful billboard entrepreneur and owner of Whiteco Industries, Inc. – forged a fortuitous relationship with Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson, a client of White’s, which eventually proved to be the momentum behind Mr. White’s transition into the development and hospitality sector. As both the town of Merrillville and the businessmen’s relationship burgeoned, Mr. White recognized Merrillville’s potential and the desirability of its location, and as such the hospitality arm of Whiteco Industries, Inc. was created. Soon after, the company entered into its first hospitality endeavor with the purchase of a 9-acre parcel of land in the heart of Merrillville. On this plot of land, consisting at the time simply of corn fields, the company developed the 120-room Merrillville Holiday Inn, now known as the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza – and thus, a 40-year legacy was born.
Following, in 1979, Whiteco Industries, Inc. completed a revolutionary $11 million transformation of the Merrillville Holiday Inn into a full-service high quality “convention/commercial motor hotel,” maintaining its same moniker. Specifically, elements of the multimillion dollar renovation included growing the hotel by approximately 105 rooms, doubling the restaurant and lounge seating capacity, construction of an adjoining Convention Center – now known as the Metropolitan Ballroom – offering meeting space for groups up to 800 people, and momentously, the development and opening of the famed Holiday Star Theatre, now known as Star Plaza Theatre.
The success of the hotel’s revitalization, along with the launch of the Holiday Star Theatre, was immediate, and as a result substantially impacted weekend business. This success underscored ownership’s understanding of the importance of balancing the creation of demand as well as managing it. As such, in 1985, White Lodging Services, Inc. was founded by Mr. White’s son, Bruce White, who took over the management of the Whiteco Industries, Inc. hospitality portfolio, launching the new company as a fully integrated hotel ownership, development, and operations entity.
During the mid- to late-1980s, and under the management of White Lodging Services, Inc., the Merrillville Holiday Inn and Holiday Star Theatre’s collective popularity continued to soar as the property evolved into the new “hub” of hospitality and entertainment in greater Chicagoland with its unique and versatile offerings – from its 3,400-seat spectacular theatre, to exclusive restaurants, lounges and clubs, to an array of function space perfect for any event. Furthering the appeal and generating nationwide recognition, the Holiday Star Theatre played host to numerous world-class performers, including Liberace, Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks and Aretha Franklin, to name only a few.
In early January 1990, Whiteco Industries, Inc. entered into a franchise agreement with Radisson Hotels & Resorts. Upon raising the brand’s flag, both the hotel and theatre names changed to the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza and the Star Plaza Theatre respectively. In addition, the hotel celebrated yet another impressive addition to its infrastructure – the Celebrity Ballroom, which boasts an impressive 11,000 square feet function space and was created specifically as exhibition space. Also joining the equation at this time was Wisecrackers Comedy Club, a weekend-night comedy show that hosted many of the best comedic entertainers in the area – and is a concept that continues to be an area favorite to this day.
As popularity for Star Plaza burgeoned into the new century, Whiteco Industries, Inc. again saw value in further evolving the property – not only making the property and its amenities relevant to the modern traveler, but also aligning the property with the luxury hospitality being offered throughout the region, specifically in cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis. As such, in 2005, thoughtful focus and innovative ideas were applied to the hotel’s food and beverage program, consequently propelling the property’s reputation as one of the premier catering sources in the area, as well as the ideal location to satisfy a variety of palates – particularly with the launch of the highly popular T.J. Maloney’s Authentic Irish Pub concept. Furthermore, in 2007, the property unveiled a $15 million renovation, which included modernized enhancements to guestrooms, the creative build-out of the lobby atrium and its poolside cabanas, as well as the Atrium Bar & Lounge venue.
Today, following this steady evolution nurtured through incisive response to market demand, consistent understanding of value-driven hospitality and entertainment, and an unprecedented location accessible to all points within the Northwest Indiana region, Star Plaza is distinguished among travelers and area residents alike as a premier destination. Thoughtful and innovative surroundings along with continuous attention to superior standards of service are the key ingredients responsible for the property’s classic and abiding reputation.