JW Marriott Local, Global Touch

May 21, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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When Alticor officials celebrate the grand opening of the downtown luxury hotel on Sept. 19, they will be joined by J.W. Marriott Jr., chairman of Marriott International, who is scheduled to make a rare appearance.

This will be the first JW Marriott in the Midwest and perhaps the only hotel in Michigan with amenities that include a “women-only” floor for female travelers. The new 340-room, 24-story hotel at Louis Street and Campau Avenue near the Grand River will offer a block of 16 rooms exclusively for women travelers. George Aquino, general manager of the new hotel and former director of operations at the Amway Grand, said 51 percent of business travelers in Grand Rapids are female, “definitely an increase from what it used to be.”

Security and comfort are prime considerations for the female business traveler, said Aquino, adding that the females-only floor will also have its own females-only lounge, where guests can enjoy a drink, relax with a book or magazine, watch a big-screen TV or use a hotel computer to e-mail home. The lounge area is being designed by Barbara Goodspeed of Steelcase.

Bert Crandell, Alticor vice president who is overseeing design and construction of the JW Marriott, said the women’s floor was one of many ideas Aquino came up with.

“It’s the kind of marketing idea that sets one property apart from the others and makes customers want to come back again,” added Crandell.

The JW Marriott-Grand Rapids is owned and operated by Amway Hotel Corp., a subsidiary of Alticor Inc., which also owns the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott. There are now 37 JW Marriott luxury hotels worldwide. In addition to the Grand Rapids location, three others are opening this year: in Beijing, London and Bangalore, India.

Other guest amenities will include a helicopter landing pad on the roof, one of the region’s largest ballrooms with seating for 1,000, a 24-hour business center, wireless Internet and meeting facilities. The glass-enclosed, elliptical-shaped tower features an atrium providing open space all the way to the top of the 24th floor. Guest rooms will offer docking stations for various electronic technologies, separate shower and bath, and many other luxury amenities. The entire hotel will be non-smoking.

The hotel restaurant will be named six.one.six, a reference to the West Michigan area code, because the menu will reflect a combination of global influences and regional delicacies such as asparagus and morels. John State will be the executive chef for the new hotel, launching six.one.six and also taking charge of the banquet services, destination lounge and in-room dining services.  State was a member of the opening team at the Flying Fish Café at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn in Orlando. Most recently, he was at the 320-seat California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort. State began his culinary career in Chicago, including the award-winning Le Ciel Bleu in the Mayfair Regent Hotel.

The hotel’s interior will feature an international theme. Public spaces, meeting rooms, guest rooms and even parking decks will showcase artwork and images reflecting each of Grand Rapids’ Sister Cities: Omihachiman, Japan; Ga Districts in Ghana; Perugia, Italy; Bielsko Biala, Poland; and Zapopan, Mexico.

Aquino said from the start, the plans — with considerable input from DeVos and Van Andel — called for the involvement of local companies and professional talent. Bids for design and construction were solicited nationwide, but all bidders were required to have a local partner in order to be considered.

Architectural design of the JW Marriott–Grand Rapids was provided by Goettsch Partners of Chicago and BETA Design Group of Grand Rapids. Brennan Beer Gorman Monk Interiors of New York and BETA Design designed the interior. Construction of the hotel began in 2005 and is a joint venture between Rockford Construction Co. Inc. of Grand Rapids and Pepper Construction Group of Chicago.

Photography commissioned for the new hotel was shot in the Sister Cities around the world by Grand Rapids photographer Dan Watts and will be on display in both public and private areas. Steelcase Leap 2 seating will be in each room. Interior Solutions, a local interior design firm, was also involved in the project.

A diverse management staff was another goal set by Alticor and Marriott International. At least half of the management staff is female and Aquino noted that professionals representing many cultures and regions of the world have been hired. For example, to name just a few: Lily Lin, director of rooms, was born in Beijing, China; Darin Jemison, director of food and beverage, is an African-American from Grand Rapids who earned a business degree from Louisiana Tech University; Analou Schoonmaker, events and meetings manager, is originally from the Philippines (as is Aquino). Many other key staff members are natives of West Michigan who were working in hospitality professions elsewhere but wanted to return to Grand Rapids to work at the JW Marriott, Aquino said.

According to Crandell, the new hotel will employ about 250 and is expected to eventually generate about $600,000 a year for the county through the hotel tax charged to guests. Room rates will start at $229, making it the priciest hotel in Grand Rapids.

Crandell said the cost of construction will be “in excess of” $100 million for the elliptical-shaped hotel and $15 million for the 600-space parking structure.

Plans for the Sept. 19 grand opening ceremonies include a morning dedication for VIP guests, followed by a reception and guided tours of the hotel.

Floor Designation

‘Not A Problem’

Hotel rooms designated for women travelers only is innovative — but is it legal? Anti-discrimination laws prohibit refusing service to any person based on his or her gender.

George Aquino isn’t worried, however.

“We’re not the first hotel doing this,” said Aquino, general manager of the new JW Marriott opening here in the fall. He said there are major hotels in Washington, D.C., and in Minneapolis that already have blocks of rooms restricted to female occupancy.

Aquino said he believes the “women only” floor at the JW Marriott-Grand Rapids will not inconvenience any male travelers because “it’s only 16 rooms” out of 340, and nowadays at least half of all business travelers are female. He said they have checked with their legal staff to ensure that it is “appropriate,” and they are sure it is, in view of precedents elsewhere.

“The likelihood of us having an issue with it is very slim,” he said.

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