Jon Rooks recently bought the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor, in which he will invest $1.5 million in the next two years, and also owns the Shoreline Inn on Muskegon Lake. Rooks said there are plenty of events on tap in Muskegon that will boost hotels’ occupancy rates in 2014. Photo by Pete Daly
A variety of things that roll — from bicycle wheels to bowling balls — are expected to keep Muskegon County hotels busy throughout 2014.
The county’s hotel/motel industry was relatively flat during 2013, judging by the county room tax collections, according to Bob Lukens, community development director at the Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
With a preliminary tally of $915,150 collected, Lukens said it appears “we were up about 1 percent over last year.”
There was a cold snap in August that is presumed to have held down room use, and the 2013 hotel traffic is being compared to 2012 when the national Hot Rod Power Tour 2012 put on by Hot Rod Magazine included Muskegon in its official stops. More than 5,000 muscle car owners brought their babies to Muskegon to show them off, and that brought in a lot of out-of-town traffic for at least a one- or two-night stay.
A recent event that helped boost this year’s hotel occupancy rate was the national Bassmaster fishing tourney held on Muskegon Lake and nearby White Lake in the last few days of September. The Bassmaster organization, headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., brought 14 of the top bass fishing professionals to compete for $100,000 in prizes. Muskegon County’s Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake was the center of the event, which was broadcast on ESPN.
“It brought about 15,000 people into town,” said Lukens, adding that it was a real testament to the cleanliness of both lakes, which had once been among the most industrially polluted waters in Michigan.
“The lakes have improved considerably from their past, and now we are a premier fishery for bass, walleye, perch and salmon,” said Lukens.
The Convention & Visitors Bureau website, visitmuskegon.org, lists almost 30 places to stay in the county, nearly two-thirds of which are “branded” hotels, according to Lukens. They are in an area centered around a unique intersection in Michigan for leisure traffic heading north and south along the shoreline as well as cross-lake traffic between Muskegon and Milwaukee on the Lake Express high-speed ferry.
Jon Rooks, principal of Parkland Properties in Grand Rapids, now owns the two major downtown Muskegon hotels: Shoreline Inn on Muskegon Lake and Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor, a short distance away at the busiest intersection in downtown Muskegon.
The 11-story, 140-room Shoreline Inn, which Rooks acquired in 2009, had an average occupancy rate of about 20 percent when he took possession. Today the rate is running at 50 percent.
The Shoreline Inn, which has its own 112-slip marina and adjacent restaurant, is the largest hotel in Michigan on a body of water with direct access to Lake Michigan for boaters, according to Rooks.
The Holiday Inn, which was acquired in June, currently has an occupancy rate of about 38 percent, according to Rooks. He added that is the highest rate it has had over the last five years. With 201 rooms and 10,000 square feet of banquet space, it is the largest hotel in West Michigan outside of Grand Rapids, according to Rooks. He said he is planning to invest about $1.5 million in it over the next two years.
The big draws for hotel traffic in Muskegon are the special events and Michigan’s Adventure amusement park, now part of the chain that includes Cedar Point on Lake Erie. Then there is the usual flow of vacation and business travelers.
When asked what event his Muskegon hotel properties rely on most each summer, Rooks said, “probably Bike Time.”
Lukens said Muskegon County hotels were “at or near 100 percent occupancy for Bike Time 2013,” with hotels as far away as Grand Rapids accommodating the overflow.
Bike Time is a rendezvous of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from throughout the Midwest for a long weekend in July, with food and beer tents and live music catering to the bikers and the gawkers. Bike Time has been taking place for several years now in downtown Muskegon and is so popular there was talk of holding a similar event in downtown Grand Rapids.
Many motorcycle riders take the Lake Express ferry in Muskegon for a high-speed crossing to Milwaukee, home of the legendary Harley-Davidson factory. The ferry also brings a lot of leisure traffic to Muskegon.
“They bring a lot of hotel business,” said Lukens, regarding Lake Express. The ferry “really helps us, as far as tourism goes, and they are great partners of ours here at the Muskegon CVB.”
Many vacation travelers driving cross country through the northern states — whether in cars or on motorcycles — avoid the traffic congestion around Chicago and Gary, Ind., by taking the Lake Express.
“We are seeing a big uptick in cyclists, too,” using the ferry, Lukens said, referring to bicyclists. He said Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have some of the best trails for bicyclists in the United States, and the network of trails along the shoreline in West Michigan draws a lot of enthusiasts who make Muskegon their starting and/or ending point.
Originally, Muskegon was famous for its lumber mills and then later for its production of tank engines during World War II (and it still has some of that production going on). The wood-working industries led to a well-known brand name synonymous with Muskegon for generations: Brunswick, maker of bowling balls, bowling pins and other equipment for bowling alleys across the nation.
The echoes of the bowling industry will be heard loud and clear in Muskegon every weekend from mid-January through mid-May.
“This winter the bowling leagues are coming,” said Rooks, anticipating good business from the competitive bowlers and their fans.
The 111thMichigan State Open Championship Tournament for men, put on by the Michigan State USBC Bowling Association, starts Saturday, Jan. 11, and runs each weekend through Sunday, May 18, except for Super Bowl and Easter Sunday.
Lukens said at least 10,000 bowlers are expected to visit Muskegon during the men’s tournament. There is also a women’s tournament that moves around the state each year.
“It really helps us out this winter as far as hotel occupancy goes,” said Lukens.
The action will take place at Sherman Bowling Center and Northway Lanes, both of which Lukens described as 50-lane facilities.
Brunswick, which now has its corporate headquarters in Lake Forest, Ill., no longer manufactures bowling balls in the U.S., although it does still have R&D facilities in Muskegon, according to Lukens. However, a company that used to supply Brunswick with bowling ball cores is now producing its own brand of high-tech bowling balls in Muskegon. That small independent company is Motiv, which is one of the sponsors of the winter tournament.