Anyone who wants to enjoy the "old world elegance" of a wedding reception at the Cuneo Mansion and Gardens in Vernon Hills has one more year to do so, as Loyola University plans a shift in its operations.
All outstanding reservations will be honored but none will be taken for dates after July 2, 2016, when Loyola closes the door on hosting wedding receptions and looks to grow its academic offerings, officials said. After that date, the pavilion where wedding guests sip drinks will be used solely for classes.
In the interim, wedding guests will be none the wiser.
"They won't be able to tell there will be changes," said Lisa Cushing-Davis, operations manager at the sprawling grounds and mansion that was gifted to Loyola five years ago by the Cuneo Foundation.
"The last wedding is July 2 of 2016 and that will be as lovely as that to be held Saturday," she said.
In 2009, Loyola became the caretaker of the sprawling grounds and enormous home and its contents, completed in 1916 for utility magnate Samuel Insull. Publishing tycoon John Cuneo Sr. bought the home in 1937. Including cash, the gift to the Jesuit Catholic university from the Cuneo Foundation was estimated at $50 million.
The school invested millions of dollars in the grounds, including the addition of a commercial kitchen and a banquet hall for weddings and other events. This annex, known as the pavilion, replaced an indoor pool and overlooks the extensive formal gardens. Since 2011, Loyola has hosted 143 wedding receptions, or about 24 each year, with the peak season being late spring through early fall.
In addition to hosting weddings and other events, Loyola operated the home as a museum, as the Cuneo Foundation had done, but school officials began to consider it more seriously for educational activities.
The pavilion, which can be sectioned into three separate spaces, has been used for the past two years for classes. More academic programming is planned, as the university transitions from event-based to academic operations, said Tim McGuriman, Loyola's associate vice president for business.
"That's our core business, providing educational opportunities." he said. "We've determined there's enough of a demand in that area for us. It's the way to go."
McGuriman said Loyola is exploring what needs to be done to convert the pavilion to a more academic setting.
"We control the clock on this," he said. "This is not something somebody woke up and said, 'Flip the switch.'"
Among the current offerings are bachelor's degree completion courses and a noncredit executive education program for corporate customers.
A major change will be the launch this fall of the university's MBA program in Vernon Hills, said John Frendreis, who heads educational programming at Cuneo.
"In a year, we expect to make significant changes to the size of the rooms, specifically for instruction," Frendreis said. "Education trumps any other activities in terms of the priority in use of space."
A market analysis suggested there is growth potential for business, education and computer science classes, he added. There is a large concentration of information technology jobs in Lake and northern Cook counties, he said, and Loyola wants to capture part of that student market.
"It's good for us to have more enrollment. But we also believe Lake County benefits from Loyola being out here and active in the area, adding to the mix," Frendreis said. "We hope the loss of a wedding reception facility is more than offset by what a university brings."
McGuriman said the grounds and mansion will be available for events, and caterers "will still be engaged with us," but not for wedding receptions.
Mansion tours currently are suspended because of ongoing renovations.