More Than A Towering Project

January 10, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Not only was the opening of the JW Marriott Hotel major news here, but talk of it resounded around the globe.

The fall dedication ceremony drew Marriott International Chairman and CEO J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. from the company’s Maryland headquarters to downtown’s Campau Square Avenue — a full two years before he will likely make a similar appearance in Chicago. When he was here in September, Marriott noted that the city’s JW Marriott is a first for the nation’s midsection, only the 16th hotel in the country bearing his father’s name, and one of just 39 worldwide.

Putting up the luxurious, 24-story hotel wasn’t an easy task. The parcel was tight and the work took the better part of two years, at a cost of $96.4 million. But within weeks of its completion, the JW Marriott had created 277 new jobs and had exceeded its projected occupancy rate.

There’s no disputing that being so fashionably elegant, so costly to build, so heralded, so successful so early, and such a potential economic engine for downtown and for the region’s hospitality industry are key qualifications for a Newsmaker of the Year nomination. But for some, including the people closest to the project, none of these considerations may be the most important.

When Alticor first announced its intention to bring a world-class hotel to downtown nearly three years ago, Alticor Chairman Steve Van Andel and Amway cofounder Richard DeVos shared that duty. For DeVos, that day was about more than a building project and what it would mean for the city. It was also about his longtime business partner and close friend, Jay Van Andel, who died a month before the project was publicly unveiled.

“This building will be a special memory for us,” he said.

DeVos told those at the unveiling that he and Van Andel had decided years earlier that they would finance a new downtown luxury hotel to complement DeVos Place, the city’s new convention center, and to fill a void in the city’s hospitality market. He also told the audience this was the last project they worked on together.

“Jay and I were committed from the beginning to build a hotel that would be special,” he said.

And special it is. It is also opulent. The JW has 337 rooms within its elliptical design, which features a heliport on the roof. The floors are hardwood, the baths are marble, there are three concierge floors that offer guests special amenities, and room service is offered around the clock. The hotel’s ballroom is the largest in the region. The restaurant is directed by Executive Chef John State, whom the hotel’s marketing and sales director Michael Lyman said is part of a new breed of chefs who come with a rock star’s level of acclaim.

“The hotel is a bet on Grand Rapids’ future, just the way the Amway Grand was 30 years ago,” said Bert Crandell, who oversaw the construction project for the Amway Hotel Corp.

Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson said the rooms the JW Marriott added to the market give his staff the capability to pursue larger conventions. But perhaps more importantly, he said the hotel gives them a chance to go after a new caliber of clients. Those new clients include groups involved in the life sciences industry and the bio-tech research field. Wilson said these professional groups are typically smaller than many that already meet here, but they are more likely to pay the higher room rate the JW commands.

Although Alticor built the hotel, Amway Hotel Corp. owns it. The JW Marriott joins the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott in the company’s highly rated lodging portfolio.

“We have made a strong commitment to Grand Rapids,” said Van Andel. 

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