Is Hotel Calder Plaza For Real

March 7, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Exactly how many public officials attended last Thursday’s Rotary Club of Grand Rapids luncheon in the Ambassador East Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel isn’t easy to determine.

But a “lot” would be a pretty reasonable guess because Kent County Administrator Daryl Delabbio and City Business Advocate Susan Shannon won two of the three prizes offered to the crowd of about 300 by Grand Valley State University head football coach Brian Kelly.

Another fair stab as to why so many were in attendance — besides the tasty lunches the Rotary serves — is that Jack Buchanan and Richard Keating were also part of the menu, not as the main course, mind you, but as the luncheon’s featured speakers.

Buchanan is CEO of Blue Bridge Ventures, a local commercial real estate brokerage and development firm. Keating is a well-known architect and a partner in the Los Angeles firm of DeStefano Keating Partners Ltd.

Buchanan and Keating are working with Hines Interests LP of Houston as the Gallium Group LLC to build a 24-story, 400-room, convention hotel on Calder Plaza, which is the current home of City Hall and the County Administration Building. The plaza is situated across Monroe Avenue from the new convention center that is under construction, and to build a Marriott-franchise hotel on the site the city and county have to pack up and leave.

“Now is the time for the city and county to move and make way for the hotel,” said Buchanan about halfway through his presentation of how a new downtown hotel would benefit the city, the county, and the local convention business.

“The growth and job creation we hope for may not be there without a hotel for downtown,” he said.

But Buchanan began his talk by saying he was asked to deliver his message by Rotarian Paul Beebe, also the business development manager for Etkin Skanska Inc., to answer the claims made by skeptics that his hotel project isn’t real.

Buchanan, who first came up with the idea for Hotel Calder Plaza in 1994, quickly said the project was authentic and that Gallium has spent $2 million on the effort so far, on research for the hotel and on a one-year option to buy Calder Plaza from the city, which is good until October. He said the hotel, about a $95 million investment, would stimulate more development for downtown, create around 400 new jobs, and add much-needed tax revenue to rapidly draining municipal coffers.

A feasibility study done by HVS International of Boulder, Colo., reported the hotel would be worth $809,000 in taxes to all the jurisdictions in its first year. The city’s cut of that total would be roughly $221,500 for a plaza that currently doesn’t generate taxes. The total tax receipts increase to $859,000 for the second year and to $885,000 for the third year.

But Buchanan explained to the audience that more tax dollars wasn’t the sole reason why the city and county should vacate the plaza. He said the new buildings each would get from the deal would make both operations more cost effective and give each a more productive work environment. The new locations would also enhance the image of each, would keep both from sinking more money into 35-year-old buildings, and would give both a guaranteed exit strategy.

At the same time, Buchanan pointed out that time is money.

The new DeVos Place, he said, will be open for a few years before the hotel can be built and open its doors, and without it the convention business may not reach its potential. He cited a Deloitte & Touche study on the convention business, paid for by the Grand Action Committee, that said the city needed another 1,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of DeVos Place in order to maximize its revenue prospects. The Gallium hotel, he said, would help fill that void.

And interest rates, he added, won’t always be at a 40-year-low.

“It’s cheaper for us to build now and to build the city and county buildings,” said Buchanan. “We’re here and we’re ready to move.”

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