First Big U.S. Hotel In Three Years

October 12, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The task isn’t just to pack enough rooms, amenities and parking spaces onto a snug downtown parcel, but to do so with the lavish touches that are found in any world-class hotel. And to get it done in only a few months’ time.

It’s not mission impossible. Just mission not easy.

But it is the mission that Lohan Caprile Goettsch Architects Inc. of Chicago and BETA Design Group Inc. of Grand Rapids chose to accept.

HP3 LLC, the division of Alticor Inc. that was put together for the $70 million project, selected the design team last month to draw up the plans for a new hotel that will go up on the corner of Pearl Street and Campau Avenue NW.

The compact site doesn’t allow for much in the way of sprawl across its two small surface parking lots and the ground space occupied by the physically non-imposing Israels Building.

The design menu, however, calls for 344 rooms, 500 parking spaces, a large ballroom, one restaurant, a lounge, and other amenities.

“To put all that on a site of this size is not going to be a piece of cake,” said Douglas Brant, CEO of BETA Design Group.

Although it won’t be easy, Brant said the job the designers have before them isn’t an unusual one. Building anything in an urban center, where space is rare, is always a challenge for architects.

“A story in itself is our downtown has become of such a size that every project we work on there, we have to look at a parking structure. Perhaps we need to be thinking more carefully about mass transportation,” said Brant.

Of course, having to include 500 yellow-outlined parking spaces in the building leaves the designers with less space for other things like guest rooms and the ballroom that is projected to be larger than the Ambassador Ballroom in Alticor’s Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

“We’ve really studied a whole variety of different options. The thing that we’ve done the last two months has been testing a lot of different ideas and concepts,” said Brant.

“It has been interesting that the people from Alticor and (Amway Grand Plaza Hotel President) Joe Tomaselli and his group have really done a very good job of looking at all the economics and logistics very, very carefully,” he added.

Brant noted that there hasn’t been a major hotel built in the country since September 2001.

Almost all have gone up in China, Southeast Asia, and India since then, and almost all have been luxurious.

Lohan Caprile Goettsch has designed a number of the hotels built in China and is mixing that upscale international flavor into the design of the new hotel.

“The shape of it will be interesting and maybe a little edgy, and I think it will really add to the downtown skyline,” Brant said.

The design, however, may not include the four-story Building that most recently housed a design center and an upscale furniture showroom.

What will happen to the 105-year-old structure will become known in a few months.

“We’re studying how we could reuse it,” said Brant. “But at this point, it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

Not only are the architects moving along on the hotel design, but BETA Design moved into its new headquarters today (Oct. 11).

The firm now occupies the top two floors at 70 Ionia Ave. SW, a four-story building it designed in a partnership BETA formed with Rockford Construction.

And even with the potential work disruption that can come from a moving an entire company, Brant said the design team would meet its deadline for the hotel drawings.

“The schematic design is due in December and I think it has been progressing pretty quickly for a project of this magnitude,” he said.

“The parking part of it is certainly a major challenge. The parking, the ballroom and having the number of hotel rooms we’re talking about, we’re doing a lot on a small area.”

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