Elephant In The Room

September 10, 2007
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The opening of the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids has sparked widespread interest in the local business community, including a strong reaction to the Business Journal’s one-week survey question posted at www.grbj.com that asked readers to comment on the facility’s opening. Sixty-seven respondents weighed in, with 36 (53.7 percent) indicating their belief that with single room rates starting at $229 per night, the JW’s pricing will not be accepted in this competitive hotel market. Twenty-five people (37.3 percent) answered that the city’s convention business will be boosted significantly with the attraction of executive-level business travelers who haven’t considered Grand Rapids previously. But just six respondents (8.9 percent) weighed in favor of an answer that stated the JW is not needed and will further depress hotel occupancy rates in the area.

  • Business Journal Reporter Pete Daly unearthed some impressive statistics from Rockford Construction about the JW Marriott:

    —If all the metal studs incorporated into the structure were laid end to end, they would extend 17 miles.

    —There is enough drywall in the building to cover a football field, from one end zone to the other.

    —There is enough carpet to cover all lanes of north- and southbound U.S. 131 from the S-Curve to Leonard Street.

    —The building contains 30 tons of marble and 350 miles of electrical wire. There are 6,500 energy-efficient light bulbs in the tower.

    —There was an average of 190 workers on the job every day. The project took an estimated 150 million individual work hours.

  • Not to be missed in the mix of local companies featured in the new hotel is Jonathan Stevens Mattress Co. The comfy beds are all outfitted with mattresses from Lady Americana-Midwest, the wholesale and contract division of the locally based manufacturer and retailer. As a matter of fact, with Jonathan Stevens mattresses in the new JW, the Amway Grand Plaza and the Courtyard by Marriott and ordered for the Days Inn remodeling, it is nigh impossible to get a good night’s sleep in a downtown Grand Rapids hotel room without sleeping with Jonathan Stevens.

And it should be mentioned that all of the Jonathan Stevens mattresses are made in West Michigan. Other local manufacturers prominently featured in the hotel — Hekman and Steelcase, for instance — can’t necessarily make that claim.

  • Surprisingly, the impending grand opening might not be the biggest thing on the plate of the JW Marriott kitchen staff. The hotel will host a special feast at the front plaza of the Van Andel Arena Wednesday for the biggest stars of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In “Pachyderm Picnic on the Plaza,” the JW Executive Chef John State and his crew will serve a herd of seven elephants — Sara, Kelly Ann, Bonnie, Juliette, Nichole, Karen and Minyak — a feast of apples, bananas, lettuce, carrots, watermelons and loaves of bread. The public is invited to bring a brown bag and lunch with the combined 60,000 pounds of Asian elephant. Ringling Bros. clowns will also be on hand, as well as animal care specialists, who will share some fun facts about the elephants and the circus’ commitment to the endangered species. The event begins at noon. The circus will appear at the Van Andel Arena Thursday through Sunday.

  • Geek Aid will return to the Sparta band shell in Rogers Park this Saturday. The local technology sector’s third annual hoedown features a five-hour celebration of music, comedy, food and graft in support of the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology in downtown Grand Rapids.

Musical acts include Tobagganing For California, Natalie Beversluis¸Decades, Vulcan Damber and Righteous. In a blast from the past, Sparta natives Dennie Middleton and Nick Lewis are back together as the Bimini Brothers to headline the event. It is the notorious duo’s second of two shows in rural Kent County this weekend (they will headline the Kent City Fall Festival at the American Legion Post 123 in Kent City on Friday).

The free Geek Aid event runs from noon to 5 p.m. The Sparta Rotary Club will provide a chicken barbeque and other beverages, including those of the alcoholic variety.

  • That old adage, be careful for what you ask because you just might get it, apparently has new meaning for Michigan businesses. After decades of complaining about the utterly complicated and penalizing state Single Business Tax, there was hope that the new Michigan Business Tax would make life less taxing for business owners. But according to City Manager Kurt Kimball, that is not the case.

Kimball said he met recently with a few local business groups, including the chamber, and walked away from the meeting with the feeling that many may soon be longing for the good ole’ SBT.

“If one of the goals of the new business tax was simplicity, that wasn’t achieved,” he said of the consensus feeling from business types. “The new tax isn’t being embraced at all. Some call it ‘the son of SBT.’”

Well, state lawmakers readily admit they’re into family values.

  • The future of a cornerstone of the Muskegon Mall redevelopment effort will likely be decided later this month when the board of the Baker College of Muskegon votes on whether to move forward on the proposed expansion of its culinary arts program as a new 15,000-square-foot development on the corner of Third Street and Clay Avenue.

“Most of what has been reported has been speculation,” Baker College of Muskegon President Rick Amidon told the Business Journal. “We’re still putting the program together, and if we move forward, we’re not going to break ground until next year at the earliest.”

When the college originally announced The Baker College of Muskegon Center for Culinary Arts last year, it did so with the intention of breaking ground this month with a ribbon-cutting in fall of 2008. Since then, the school has hired a new dean, Master Chef Alex Erdmann, and according to Amidon, has made some significant changes to the original plan.

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