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Willow Valley unveils relocated wedding chapel, plans for new event venue

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A wedding chapel was recently relocated by Willow Valley Associates, which plans to add a new event venue in 2019.
A wedding chapel was recently relocated by Willow Valley Associates, which plans to add a new event venue in 2019. - (Photo / )

Willow Valley Associates unveiled its relocated wedding chapel and plans for a new venue during a late November event for area meeting planners.

The relocated Willow Valley wedding chapel is the "something old," while Chapel Terrace, a stone terrace in front of the chapel and parking to the side are the "something new." Plans were also unveiled to construct a tented events venue, which will be known as Fountain View, in the vicinity of the chapel.

Built in 1997, the wedding chapel was relocated from the south side of Willow Valley Drive in West Lampeter Township to the other side of the street. It is now located near the Willow Valley Golf Course Pro Shop and behind the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Lancaster, which is operated by Willow Valley Associates.

"It’s now at the perfect spot. It’s located behind a lake, so it has a better view. A new lighted path connects it to and makes it an easy walk from the hotel," said Dory Hoffman-Kumar, DoubleTree Lancaster general manager.

Cathy Minnich, director of sales and marketing, said the new terrace, can accommodate 50 guests at a dinner reception and provides more flexibility for the 180-seat chapel’s use.

"The chapel is so much a part of who we are as well as the larger community. Willow Valley has been a destination for 52 years. Some of today’s brides stayed here as a child; they may have been in a hotel room where they watched a wedding in the chapel, so this is their dream. The chapel is also used by the public including residents at nearby Willow Valley Communities [a nonprofit continuing care retirement community] for vow renewals," she said. 

The new location for the Willow Valley wedding chapel allows its stained glass windows to take better advantage of natural light.
The new location for the Willow Valley wedding chapel allows its stained glass windows to take better advantage of natural light. - ()

For Diane Poillon, Willow Valley Associates’ president and CEO, the chapel is part of her family’s legacy. She is the third generation of the Thomas family at Willow Valley; it was established 52 years ago by her grandparents, John and Florence Thomas, who opened Willow Valley Inn in 1966.

She said the chapel was her grandfather’s and father’s vision. The building’s stained glass windows originally hung at the former St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lititz, which was constructed in 1911.

"The stained glass windows were bought at auction, and the chapel was designed around those windows," she explained, "We gave careful consideration to selecting the site where the chapel is currently located; we wanted to showcase those windows and make sure the sun illuminates them just right."

The new tented venue will be constructed next year on the Willow Valley Golf Course. Its name, Fountain View, pays tribute to the view it will have of a fountain in a lake in front of the chapel.

Minnich said the seasonal Fountain View venue is anticipated to accommodate 125 to 175 people; a more exact figure was not available since plans for the size of the tented venue are still being finalized. When this venue is completed, Minnich said the resort property will have over 20,000 square feet of event space (including the chapel and chapel terrace). She added that the resort also completely refurbished all 185 guest rooms earlier this year and meeting rooms were refurbished in January.

Relocating the chapel was part of the redevelopment of a portion of the Willow Valley tract. The 30-acre Willow Valley Crossroads retail development includes the area that formerly housed the Willow Valley Inn & Suites, which was razed in 2012. According the CPBJ reports, Willow Valley Associates first announced it plans for the 30-acre tract in 2015.

"Once the inn was demolished, the wedding chapel was disconnected from the rest of the hotel property, so it made sense to relocate it," Hoffman-Kumar said.

In addition to unveiling the chapel and its new terrace and plans for Fountain View, Chris Bainbridge, DoubleTree Lancaster corporate sales manager, discussed meeting trends for 2019.

She predicts that event planners will become more creative with food and beverage — adding more DYI food and beverage bar. Incorporating local flavor into events whether through food or places group members can visit on their downtime is also popular, she said.

Sustainability is also trending. She cited several efforts at the DoubleTree as examples. The resort’s restaurant, Café 24 Hundred, participates in the Crayons for Haiti project, which repurposes children’s crayons and sends them to be distributed to children in Haiti. Bainbridge said a similar effort repurposes unused portions of bar soap from guest rooms. Additionally excess food from banquets and meetings is donated to Lancaster’s Water Street Mission.

She also advised meeting planners to include a community service or give-back activity as part of their event, and it can be billed as a fun surprise.

She also sees an increase use of audiovisual tools and technology, such as audience polling devices, which can make events interactive.

"One comment we hear from a lot of meeting planners is that it’s hard to attract millennials to attend their events. Making them interactive is one way to get them involved, as are adding local flair, touting sustainability efforts and including a give-back activity," Bainbridge said.

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