Room For Conventions At The Inns

August 1, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — What better place to talk about the need for a new downtown hotel than the Pantlind Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, downtown’s largest, most honored, and most distinctive lodging address.

Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson took advantage of his distinct surroundings to do just that at a Rotary Club of Grand Rapids luncheon last week. There he told a crowd of 200 that the CVB hasn’t lost a convention booking due to a lack of nearby hotel rooms.

Wilson also said that the bureau hasn’t had to spread guests out across the county to accommodate visitors to conventions and tradeshows, either.

To prove his point, Wilson explained that the National Rural Letter Carriers Association was able to be booked at four hotels. That convention, to be held in four years, is one of the larger meetings already booked for DeVos Place. Its 3,200 delegates and 8,075 room nights are already booked at the Amway Grand, the downtown Courtyard by Marriot, the Days Inn, and the Radisson North on Ann Street.

“This hotel has 683 rooms and for this convention they’re providing 600 rooms,” said Wilson of the Amway Grand.

So it’s fair to conclude that downtown doesn’t need a new hotel, for now. At least, not until room demand exceeds supply — something that hasn’t happened for the past few years.

A CVB graphic showed that hotel occupancy in Kent County has slipped by 9.2 percent from 65.6 percent in 2000 to 56.4 percent through the first half of this year.

Wilson said there are 1,150 hotel rooms available for conventions.

“We don’t want to build a new hotel prematurely,” he said.

Over the same period, the average room rate has remained fairly steady — only rising 70 cents a night from $67.52 in 2000 to $68.22 today.

Wilson told the luncheon audience that a new hotel should have 350 rooms and that the DeVos family, owners of the Amway Grand and downtown Marriot, were researching when would be a good time to build a new one downtown.

Wilson didn’t say where the hotel would be built, but earlier this year the DeVos family bought Olds Manor. The former retirement home is located just north of DeVos Place, which opens its exhibit space on Dec. 3.

Wherever it gets built, though, it should be near the convention facility.

“Meeting planners want everything within walking distance,” said Wilson. “Meeting planners want everything under one roof.”

What wasn’t mentioned was the effort by Blue Bridge Ventures to build a 400-room hotel on Calder Plaza, home to the city and county buildings across Monroe Avenue from DeVos Place. Why? Maybe because designers of the new structure have recommended the plaza as the best site for expanding the convention center.

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