Business Journal reporting on the very good news of consecutive years of hotel occupancy increases — with the additional 800 rooms added by new hotel construction during the past 18 months — begs new discussion and new possibilities directly impacting current thinking and planning, especially related to Calder Plaza, its environs and its refurbishment. Further, it provides renewed emphasis to make the Grand River activation the top priority for Grand Rapids.
Experience Grand Rapids President and CEO Doug Small, noting the travel and visitors group, has been working with a consulting agency for a long view of Grand Rapids/Kent County’s market reach and possible impediments. To that end, Small made two points in his interview with the Business Journal: adding more hotel rooms (given current occupancy levels) would be advantageous but also would beg additional events to put more heads in beds. It’s relevant to note the Kent County hotel/motel tax revenue has continued to increase, from the recession 2009 level of $100 million to almost $207 million this year with the new, additional rooms. Without planning now for additional hotel space, Grand Rapids falls behind other regional cities for new events that can meet larger room availability/supply numbers.
Small is looking to the West Michigan Sports Commission’s program expansions and attractions as one resource, but consultants are urging Grand River activation as a priority. Cities with activated rivers have unfailingly been rewarded with increased economic activity and tourism growth. Small emphasized, “A new 400-500 room hotel with meeting space gives us an opportunity to attract new, larger business to the downtown area, which makes everyone else better because it displaces normal everyday business to the suburbs.” Hotels generally require access to the convention center, which limits site possibilities to one of two possibilities: the federal post office site (which even former President Gerald R. Ford had no success in negotiating for relocation against federal budget deficits within the postal system) or the city/county buildings on Calder Plaza, a space which has previously been re-envisioned as prominent hotel and office space.
City and county full discussion of the matter is necessary sooner than later, before taxpayer money is used to refurbish Calder Plaza — if such an expenditure even be needed, as private development becomes more focused.