Hotel For Calder Plaza On Agenda Again

June 28, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Didn't the Eagles sing "Welcome to the Hotel Calder Plaza" in their record-grossing concert at the arena?

If they didn't, that's a tune developers from Blue Bridge Ventures and Hines Interests LP hope to be humming in a few years — and they're anticipating writing the first notes to the song soon.

Members of Blue Bridge and Hines Interests have a luncheon date set for July 9 with city commissioners. At that informal gathering, the developers hope to convince commissioners that they are sitting on the prime site for a new downtown hotel — Calder Plaza, directly across Monroe Avenue from the new convention facility that is under construction — and that they have the prime downtown hotel for that site.

Their problem? City Hall and the Kent County Administration Building currently occupy the property.

Their solution? Find appropriate downtown sites in which to relocate both the city and the county, and at no extra cost to either. Then Calder Plaza becomes available for the hotel many have said the city needs.

Blue Bridge made a similar pitch over lunch to city commissioners a few years ago that involved a swap of buildings, and which drew little positive public response from the city.

In that deal, the city would have received the Frey Building, and the county would have gotten the Bank One Building. Both would have received relocation fees. Blue Bridge, in turn, would then have gotten Calder Plaza.

"The concept has remained the same, but the details have changed," said Ed Kettle of Blue Bridge. "What we're trying to do is purchase all of the property owned by the city and the county at 300 Monroe NW. In exchange for that, we will work out a relocation plan."

Kettle was hazy about the details. He preferred to save those for the meeting with the city because the deal was open-ended, not locked into a specific take-it-or-leave-it proposal. But he said the impression they wanted to leave with commissioners was clear: They have a first-rate convention center hotel for the plaza if the city wants one.

"We can do this if you allow us to do this," said Kettle.

"The hotel operation is designed to not only complement the $220 million public investment in the convention center, but also enhance it with their marketing power, which we think is a pretty big selling point," he added.

Kettle also said it was too soon for him to reveal the name of the hotel, but the buzz has it that Marriott remains interested in the downtown market.

"We can demonstrate that we have the professional and financial horsepower to do this project," he remarked.

The developers haven't set an official date to meet with county commissioners, yet. But Kettle said they have kept in contact with the county.

"We have worked consistently on a particular set of parameters that was given to us by (Kent County Administrator) Daryl Delabbio, and we feel confident that we can meet those objectives," said Kettle.

If the developers can come up with four city commissioners who support the deal, a new downtown office tower could emerge from the building swap – meaning additional property and personal property tax revenues.

Hines Interests is a privately held commercial real estate development company that was founded in 1957 and is based in Houston. The firm handles most aspects of development, including site selection, design, construction management and finance. In 2000, Hines reportedly had sales of $750 million.

Blue Bridge is a real estate development company located on Monroe Avenue NW and was started by Jack Buchanan in February 2000.

Los Angeles architect Richard Keating is also involved in the proposal.

Kettle said the developers feel the best possible site for a hotel that can cater to the convention business is Calder Plaza, and the best possible hotel for Calder Plaza is one that can cater to the convention business.

"If we're going to be competitive in the convention center market, we need to bring in all the competitive tools we can muster," he said. "And a convention center hotel is clearly one of the best tools."

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