Holiday Inn completes downtown property change

January 18, 2010
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The changes taking place at the former Days Inn located at 310 Pearl St. NW have been noticeable to passersby. The hotel, now a Holiday Inn, celebrated its official reopening on Jan. 14. The renovation process, however, began almost three years ago.

“We started in June of 2007 when the new ownership took over,” said Ellen Markel, general manager of the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown. “Our goal was always to upgrade the property and work towards becoming a more viable option for some of the corporate travelers and conventioneers that were coming to the area.”

Hotel operators pursued upgrades throughout in order to eventually switch to the Holiday Inn brand. Holiday Inn brand operates under the InterContinental Hotels Group. Days Inn is under the Wyndham Hotel Group.

“Holiday Inn has some specific requirements and we finished the process; touched on a few of the areas that we hadn’t done in the past with the first round (of renovations),” Markel told Business Journal reporter Jake Himmelspach. “The conversion was officially in December, but we wanted to get the last little things finished before we did anything else.”

All of the guest rooms received improvements, including 32-inch flat-panel TVs, upgraded bathrooms and internet systems. The business center, fitness center and pool area saw renovations as well. Additional training for the staff also took place.

“Mostly, it was just putting the finishing touches on; upgrading the culture and the guest service,” she said. “All of my team has gone through a pretty extensive training program that is Holiday Inn specific.”

The breakfast program is also Holiday Inn specific and jump-started a change in the kitchen.

“We have the restaurant and it’s full-service. Most people didn’t necessarily recognize that we had all these extra things. You typically don’t find them in a Days Inn,” she said. “I have a whole new culinary team that has transported from the lakeshore over to Grand Rapids. They’ve had some marvelous menu ideas. We’re looking forward to a lot more in that area.”

Peter Walstra, the new owner under a group called St. Julian Partners, was friends with the former owner.

“I felt with its location it had a lot of potential and I felt with my experience in renovating properties and refocusing them it had a lot of potential,” Walstra said. “Originally I came to West Michigan in 1986 where I developed, built and ran the Holiday Inn in Holland. I also re-did the Crowne Plaza on 28th Street, so I was familiar with the area.”

Walstra noted that there are only four hotels in the downtown area, two of them being what he classified as the higher-priced J.W. Marriott and the Amway Grand.

“Our whole objective was to build a hotel that was a very good quality, very good service at a fair price,” he said. “Not everyone can afford to stay at the J.W. or the Amway.”

Walstra made the decision to switch from Days Inn to Holiday Inn for a few specific reasons.

“Holiday Inn has Priority Club, which is the biggest in the world. They have the best reservation system and whether it be business people or families I think it is very attractive,” he said. “That was really the reason for changing the flag.”

Walstra has been living in Boulder, Colo., where he operates another hotel, but since purchasing the renovated Holiday Inn he also spends time in Grand Rapids and resides in East Grand Rapids.

DDA seats officers
The Downtown Development Authority re-elected Kayem Dunn as chairwoman and John Canepa as vice chairman last week. Then Dunn reappointed Canepa, Jim Dunlap, GR Mayor George Heartwell and herself to the board’s Priority Committee. She then reappointed Gretchen Minnhaar, Wayne Norlin, and Tom Dowling to the DDA’s Incentive Program Advisory Board. All appointments are good through this year.

Opening a spot
The Grand Rapids City Commission is finalizing its process to select someone to replace Commissioner David LaGrand, who resigned recently to run as a Democrat for the state Senate seat currently held by a term-limited Bill Hardiman. Chances are that Second Ward residents that are interested can begin throwing a hat into the commission ring on Jan. 27. What commissioners have to decide is how long they should keep the application period open. Last Tuesday, 30 days was the leading choice but that could change. The commission meets on Jan. 26 so more info is expected by then.

Mayor to hit stage
After that announcement comes, Heartwell will have breakfast with about 500 of his closest friends four days later. The mayor will deliver the annual State-of-the-City Address on Saturday morning, Jan. 30. What he’ll have to say will undoubtedly be interesting, even more so if French toast is served. But his message this year likely won’t include news of a local food company revealing plans to build a new grocery store near downtown as it did three years ago.

Below the radar
Tim den Dulk of Ravenna, owner of one of the largest diary farm operations in the nation, was recently named to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dairy Industry Advisory Committee.

That's a high-profile spot for a guy who prefers to remain behind the scenes.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in early January that 17 people had been appointed to a federal Dairy Industry Advisory Committee. Over the next two years, the committee will review the issues of farm milk price volatility, dairy farmer profitability and consolidation, "and offer suggestions on ways USDA can best address the needs of a struggling dairy industry," according to the USDA press release.

This isn't Den Dulk's first friendly encounter with government. A few years ago the Michigan Public Service Commission granted $1 million for a biodigester plant on his Ravenna farm, built by the GVSU Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. The experimental plant uses manure from a thousand den Dulk cows to generate electricity — which also helps solve the problem of legally and safely disposing of large volumes of manure, an issue at many large dairy farms.

Currently, a business entity called Continental Dairy Products is requesting $31.1 million in Recovery Zone Facility Bonds, the total amount allocated last year to Ottawa County through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. ARRA bonds are intended to help expedite new business ventures that create jobs. Continental plans to invest $100 million in construction of a milk processing plant in Coopersville, which will create 70 or more jobs. Den Dulk is a key officer of Continental Dairy Products, according to state records. An MEDC document states that Continental is a cooperative comprising 28 dairy farms in the upper Midwest, each with an average of 3,000 cows. In October, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority approved a state tax credit for Continental, worth $1.5 million over ten years, "to help win the company's investment (in Coopersville) over competing sites in Indiana and Ohio."

The city of Coopersville has helped in various ways, too, because Continental Dairy will be occupying the former Delphi auto parts plant, which has been vacant for a few years now.

A Continental Dairy site manager, not Den Dulk, has appeared before the Coopersville city council over the months it has been considering ways to help Continental Dairy get into business, according to Coopersville Mayor Ken Bush.

"He's a hard man to find," Bush said last fall, when the Business Journal told him it was unable to reach den Dulk for an interview.

Last week, Bush said he was not sure when renovation of the former Delphi plant would begin.

"They are keeping that very hush hush," he said, referring to Continental Dairy. "I don't understand that but you know, that's the way they operate."

As for the USDA's Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, the announcement states it holds its first meeting "in early 2010. The meeting will be open to the public and USDA encourages public participation."

It should be interesting to see if all of its members are in attendance.

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