Street Talk: Could tower power hotel?


With the reveal of what Grand Rapids can do to become a next-level destination city, there’s an easy answer to one of the major suggestions.

With absorption of new market rate residential units in downtown Grand Rapids anecdotally slowing, developers might need to be cautious of overbuilding, something CWD Real Estate Investment Managing Partner Sam Cummings always stresses.

Orion Construction has a large residential tower planned as part of its two-tower development at 150 Ottawa Ave. NW. The firm hopes the $63.5-million project will begin next year and finish in time to house its planned anchor tenant, Warner Norcross & Judd, when the law firm’s lease at Fifth Third Center expires in 2019.

With the office and residential towers separate, it’s likely not too late for John Wheeler and crew to take a look at what it would take to get the 350-500 hotel rooms and extra meeting space the Grand Action-commissioned study suggested to help support added convention space.

The development’s location fits the criterion of being within walking distance of DeVos Place.

Experience Grand Rapids President and CEO Doug Small sounded the call for a larger hotel to accommodate more meeting space, so his organization can attract more and larger conventions without needing extra convention center space.

Small also said a hotel, or two, with 400-500 rooms would better add to the supply of rooms in Kent County that continue to be filled at record rates. A large downtown hotel would do more for Grand Rapids than the 800 new rooms that opened in the suburbs over the past 18 months, he said, because those smaller 100-or-so-room hotels primarily retain occupancy leakage to other counties.

Small told the Business Journal in November that, while aware of the Grand Action study, the community was near a decision if it wants to continue to compete with larger destination markets, such as Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

There are a lot of decisions coming from the city’s wealthy benefactors at Grand Action, but the hotel might be easily taken care of with a quick switcheroo for one of Orion’s towers.

Uncertainty trumped

The fourth quarter of 2016 has state business leaders experiencing soaring optimism.

Business Leaders for Michigan’s final quarterly economic forecast, which surveys the organization's members on their feelings for both the state and the nation over the next six and 18 months, was released Dec. 7.

Of those who responded, 62 percent expect the Michigan economy to remain the same or improve, while 82 percent said the same for the nation as a whole. Contrast that with the numbers from Q3, in which just 15 percent said Michigan's economy would improve and 8 percent saw national economic growth, and the results are staggering. In fact, the 82 percent optimism rate for the national economy is the highest since BLM began surveying in 2009.

So what happened in 2016 Q4? Might there have been a cataclysmic event that shook up the nation's future?

“Getting the election behind us removed uncertainty for the market and resulted in renewed hope that long-standing policy and regulatory issues might get addressed, particularly at the federal level,” Business Leaders for Michigan President and CEO Doug Rothwell said.

The numbers were similar for the next 18 months — 84 percent of respondents felt the U.S. economy would improve, and 61 percent are expecting better times in Michigan.

Drug of choice

Four leaders in local health, nonprofit and law enforcement agencies are doing crucial work to treat and prevent drug abuse.

The speakers gathered Dec. 2 to discuss the impact, treatment and prevention of drug abuse in West Michigan at the monthly Health Forum of West Michigan, hosted by Grand Valley State University. The primary focus was on opioid abuse.

After speaking for about 15 minutes each, the panelists took questions from a packed audience of about 270 people.

Thomas Burns, a special agent based in Kalamazoo with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said he sees the increased amount of doctor-prescribed pain medications as being a contributing factor to increased rates of drug abuse.

“Overdoses in Michigan have tripled from 1999 to 2012,” Burns said. “Opioids are a big part of that.” He also noted from 1999-2013, the amount of prescribed pain medications has quadrupled. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, medical professionals increasingly have acknowledged the health care industry’s role in opioid addiction through overprescribing painkillers.

The peak of opioid overdoses in Kent County was in 2015, according to Mark Hall, medical director for Kent County Health Department, with 84 deaths. He said the death toll would be “a lot higher” if not for the work of organizations, such as The Grand Rapids Red Project.

The Grand Rapids Red Project primarily focuses on medication-assisted treatment, said Executive Director Steve Alsum, administering the drugs methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, along with a clean-syringe program.

“(We want to) improve health, reduce risk and prevent HIV,” he said.

Michelle LaJoye-Young is undersheriff at the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. She said some of the challenges facing law enforcement include crime scene arrests, corrections and investigations.

She said the department is combating these challenges via “expansion of Good Samaritan laws, carrying of naloxone in every patrol car and a big social media push” for education.

Ugly cause

West Michigan companies are being asked to break out their ugly holiday sweaters for a cause this month.

The ALS Association Michigan Chapter is hoping to raise money from ugly holiday sweater office parties.

Individuals and corporations across Michigan are invited to purchase a specially designated “ugly sweater” from to help raise funds for residents living with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The nonprofit is partnering with the Commerce Township-based company, which will donate 25 percent of the profits from every sweater purchased at Sweaters will arrive with a special #GetUgly ALS patch affixed to the sleeve.

The ALS Association Michigan Chapter also is challenging Michigan corporations to host a #GetUgly day at work during the month of December, where all participants donate $10 to wear their selected ugly sweater for the day.

Participants are encouraged to share photos of themselves and their colleagues on social media using the hashtag #GetUgly.

Paula Morning, CEO of The ALS Association Michigan Chapter, said she is “excited to announce this wonderful holiday initiative to raise funds and awareness for this dreadful disease.”

“ALS affects the lives of more than 700 people in Michigan — my hope is that one day, we will find a way to eliminate it for good,” Morning said.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. People with ALS eventually lose ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis.

There is no cure and only one U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug that “modestly extends survival.”

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