Chamber Hopes To Lure New Hotel Investment

May 17, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN – Seeking to stem what’s seen as an eroding share of the lodging business, The Chamber of Commerce wants to try to lure a developer who’ll develop a new hotel in Grand Haven, preferably in the downtown and waterfront area.

The Chamber’s hope is to generate interest for a “boutique” hotel and complementing amenities, perhaps a conference center, that would offer much more than a room for the night and serve tourists and business travelers, as well as local users who need a place to host business conferences or events. Something similar to the Haworth Inn & Conference Center in Holland, developed in the mid-1990s, is the ideal project envisioned.

The Chamber is presently working to gather ideas from its members about what they’d like to see and how to go about attracting the attention of developers. The idea is largely an informal effort right now that’s focusing on raising awareness within the business community about the need for new lodging in town and the potential benefits of a facility in downtown.

“Our job is to keep it out there,” said Karen Benson, vice president of economic development for The Chamber. “We have to excite the private sector about it and let the word out that we are open to that.”

Stirring the idea is an apparent shortage of hotel rooms in Grand Haven, which lags far behind other shoreline communities in lodging with 556 rooms in the market, including bed and breakfasts.

Holland, which has seen a significant increase in hotel development since the late 1990s, has 1,193 rooms. Muskegon County has 1,850 rooms and has many more on the way with developers planning new facilities. Saugatuck has 670 rooms and South Haven has 750.

The Grand Haven area hasn’t seen any new major hotel or motel construction in years, even as the local tourism trade flourished, said Laurel Nease, vice president for tourism development at The Chamber.

The void often forces travelers Grand Haven during the peak summer weekends, when local occupancy rates are at 100 percent, to go elsewhere to stay, Nease said. Even on weekdays in the summer, motel, hotel and B&B occupancy rates locally are still high, reaching upwards of 80 percent, she said.

“We seem to be an island in the middle of this growth,” Nease said. “Everybody’s growing to accommodate that growth but Grand Haven and we’re losing market share because of it.”

Key to generating that kind of investment The Chamber hopes to see is showing that there’s enough market demand to sustain a venture and finding a good location.

On the former issue, Nease and Benson say a new hotel in downtown could help to build the year-round demand for lodging in Grand Haven, where winter occupancy rates presently run at 20 percent to 25 percent. Nease believes a facility located in the heart of the downtown business district and adjacent to the waterfront would generate new business in the traditional off-season, as well as provides meeting space locally throughout the year.

Tourism is also growing to more than just a summer industry, with travel volumes in recent years on the upswing in the fall and early spring, Nease said.

On location, the ideal site envisioned for such a venture is the City of Grand Haven’s North End Redevelopment Project to the north of downtown, where the city is working to turn a rundown industrial area into a new neighborhood consisting of a mixture of residential, commercial and retail uses.

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