University Park, zoned for planned unit development-commercial, is a 12-acre complex in the middle of what could become the hotbed of West Michigan development, and the culmination of 20 years of investment by its owner, Stuart Becker.
“I’ve had that parcel of property for years,” Becker explained. “Now that the boulevard, the highway, is finished, and with the growth of the college, I thought it was time to develop it into University Park.”
Becker came across the land, originally more than 72 acres, while running the Grand Valley Lanes, which until recently sat at the southernmost point of the land on Lake Michigan Drive. A 23-year-old Becker opened the 12-lane bowling alley with his father, Harold Becker, in 1964, the year GVSU was born.
“We were the original community center for Allendale,” Becker recalled. “We were the only show in town. We were filled with spectators and bowlers every night.
“I got to meet a number of the students in the pioneer class,” he said. “I’ve still maintained friendships with many of them over the years.”
Becker expanded the alley from 12 lanes to 16, then eventually to 24 lanes, before selling it in the mid-80s. It is now a Save-A-Lot. From there he opened Sheldon Party Store in Jenison on Port Sheldon Drive, which he sold four years ago to his son William.
During that time, he also maintained a lucrative side business in real estate, selling the back 60 acres of the University Park property to a developer to create a light industrial park, and another 135 acres west of Allendale to a residential developer.
The second sale generated enough income to fund the development of University Park, anchored by Becker’s hotel, the Sleep Inn.
“When I was at the bowling center, people would always ask where the nearest hotel or motel was at,” Becker remembered. “And I would have to send them all the way to 28th Street.”
Even today, the nearest hotel is a distant drive. There is a Comfort Inn near the RiverTown Crossings Mall in Grandville, an Amerihost in Coopersville, an assortment in downtown Grand Rapids, and a handful in Walker.
The Sleep Inn, a 60-room hotel with room to expand, is the lone choice for visitors to Allendale. A national chain with one other franchise in Grand Rapids, its parent company is Choice Hotels, which also operates the Comfort Inn and Econo Lodge chains as well as several others.
Becker’s hotel features an indoor pool, fitness center, and Internet access, among other amenities, with rooms from $79 and suites to $129. The hotel is running a grand opening rate of $59.95, which will last through the end of December.
Becker has been in contact with both the university and The Meadows Golf Course, both of which are only two blocks away. It is his goal to become the choice of overnight visitors to both, and will list the golf course as an amenity for his guests.
With the opening in October, the Sleep Inn caught the brunt of both the football and volleyball seasons. Business has been steady with visiting sports teams and fans of GVSU’s undefeated football team taking respite at the hotel. It was filled to capacity during a recent volleyball tournament.
“That was a pleasant surprise,” Becker said. “We expected it, but it worked out even better than we thought. To be filled to 100 percent for two nights right off the bat, the staff was nothing but smiles.”
GVSU even contacted Becker last year to see if he would be open in time to house parents during freshman orientation in July.
“We’ll be ready this year,” he said. “It’s 2003 already; high school visits should be starting anytime now, and we already get a steady crowd of parents coming to see their kids at the college.”
The Sleep Inn should also benefit from Grand Rapids’ new advertising blitz with the opening of the $220 million DeVos Place convention center.
“There’s some controversy over their marketing the lakeshore along with Grand Rapids,” Becker explained. “But I like it just fine. I’m right in the middle of both.”
Only 15 miles away from the summer hotspot of Lake Michigan’s beaches, Becker hopes to see some overflow from events like Tulip Time, the Coast Guard Festival, and the Muskegon Air Show.
The Sleep Inn right now is the only tenant in University Park. There are eight acres still available for development within the complex, and Allendale’s recent decision to allow the sale of alcohol by the glass has made the open spots within sight of the campus much more attractive.
“It definitely will help us find a restaurant,” Becker said, “whether it’s a national chain or a local enterprise.”
An avid boater, Becker now lives in Grand Haven, where he at one time owned a 45-slip marina.