Cambria Suites may be located downtown

January 18, 2009
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Another hotel may be in the works for downtown. This one would specialize in business travel and would go up within a few dozen steps east of Van Andel Arena.

GT RIDMG Inc., a development firm based in Fort Wayne, Ind., told the Downtown Development Authority last week that it would like to build an eight-story Cambria Suites Hotel on a city-owned surface parking lot at 45 Ionia Ave. SW — the same parcel where a nine-story mixed-use development featuring 70 condominiums was to have been built.

Tall House Enterprises held title to the property, but the DDA and the city retained the site’s ownership to allow the lot to continue operating. After the housing bubble burst, the Tall House project was cancelled and the property went on the market.

“We do have a contract to sell the property. We’re looking forward to hopefully closing soon,” said Douglas Poland, an attorney with McShane & Bowie PLC, the firm representing Tall House Enterprises.

To make the site available to GT RIDMG, the DDA amended a nearly three-year-old term sheet it had with Tall House last week. The new agreement lets a hotel be built on the site, along with any other use the board approves, and requires a minimum investment of $10 million into a project approved for the property. The term sheet also calls for public improvements to be made to the site.

“I believe this is a good compromise and resolves this issue,” said Jay Fowler, DDA executive director.

DDA members said last week that a suites hotel with a restaurant would satisfy their expectations for the parcel, and they transferred the agreement from Tall House Enterprises to the Fort Wayne firm, which means Tall House can complete its sale of the property to GT RIDMG.

“The Cambria is a full-service suite. It’s upper scale,” said Brian Belland, a partner in GT RIDMG. “We’re planning on doing a skywalk over to the arena.”

Belland said his firm would invest up to $26.5 million into the project, which would create from 85 to 100 new jobs downtown. He said construction could get underway as soon as July and the hotel could open in 16 months — when Belland said the economy would be in much better shape than it is now.

Room rates would run from $145 to $150 a night. The Cambria Suites would feature a signature restaurant, a bar and full room service.

Serve Studio Architecture, at 242 Carlton St. SE in Grand Rapids, is designing the proposed hotel, and Rockford Construction Co. will manage the construction.

Tall House bought the property from CSL West Associates LLC, a partnership between Rockford Construction and RDV Corp., in 2006. Rockford acquired the site as part of a land swap the firm made with the DDA in 1999. Tall House paid the DDA $100,000 last May for not starting construction by the agreement’s deadline, but the firm is expected to get at least half that revenue back from the lot’s net parking revenue — also part of the term sheet.

Tall House, which was initially planned for condos, retail, office space and underground parking, was to have been the last development in the Cherry Street Landing project. Now that honor falls to the former Heartside Manor at 35 Oakes St. SW. Rockford will convert that eight-story building into The Forum Apartments. Work on the project is expected to get underway this summer.

Cambria Suites is a franchise of Choice Hotels International, which also offers Clarion, Comfort Inn and Econo Lodge among its brands.

“I have approval from Choice for Grand Rapids,” said Belland, who added that his firm has to have a 30 percent equity in the project in order to get the necessary financing.

Other hotels that have been proposed for the district within the past few years include one at Monroe Avenue and Newberry Street, one for Ionia Avenue, two in the Michigan Street hill area, and one near the corner of Monroe Avenue and Trowbridge Street.

The hotel occupancy rate for Kent County was about 53 percent in 2008.

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