Owner is anxious to open CityFlats

January 14, 2011
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The work that is turning the former Fox Jewelers building at 83 Monroe Center in downtown Grand Rapids into the new CityFlats Hotel has been going on for a while, and for a short time a somewhat strange whooshing noise could be heard coming from the 137-year-old, five-story building.

Chuck Reid, president of Charter House Innovations in Holland and principal of CityFlats Grand Rapids RE LLC, said that noise was the sound of dirt being sucked out of the structure.

“I was actually there yesterday and the snow was just falling in the building,” Reid recently said with a laugh.

“We’ve got the roof cut out in many locations as we’re getting ready to put in the first block for the stairwells and the elevator shaft. Right now, you’ll hear a lot of noise from what’s called a guzzler. It’s actually sucking the dirt out of the basement. It’s an old building. On that first floor, there really wasn’t any floor, except dirt. So we had to get rid of the dirt.”

Reid said he really likes the hotel’s central location. He feels it’s close to everything that is good about downtown. He told the Business Journal that he recently attended a concert at the Van Andel Arena and realized that his walk from the parking ramp to the arena’s front door was farther than his hotel will be from the facility.

“The proximity of that building to all the cool stuff downtown — the Grand Rapids Art Museum, all the eateries and restaurants, just all the fun stuff like Rosa Parks Circle — makes it a really nice walking-distance location for folks who want to venture out in a downtown without really having to worry about catching a cab or a bus, or taking a car. It’s a nice walking distance pretty much to everything,” he said.

Reid said he felt downtown is a good market for his hotel, which has been designed to appeal to both the business traveler and tourist who want to take in the city’s core. “Obviously, were not off an interstate. We’re where it’s rather quiet. You get the city noise, but it’s just a nicer experience, we think,” he said.

Dave Levitt and Brad Rosely, partners in Third Coast Development, showed the Fox Building to Reid. Levitt and Rosely also own property in Holland, and Reid bought 500 E. Eighth St. from them for his Charter House headquarters.

“They took me to the site and asked if I thought it would be a good place for CityFlats,” he said.

The Grand Rapids version of the CityFlats Hotel will be a lot like the one in Holland, but smaller. Instead of 56 guest rooms, the one here will have 28.

“What we offer is a little bit more of an intimate location. I mean, when you only have 28 rooms and you check in 28 people, you can pretty much know who they are. At a hotel of 300 people, it may be a little bit tough to do that. When you walk into a lobby of a larger hotel, it can be daunting at times. With the boutique hotel we’ve tried to create, it’s just an experience that’s a little bit more intimate than what a larger hotel is,” said Reid.

The hotel’s first floor will offer a casual bar called The CityScene Lounge. It will seat from 80 to 100 people, offer a menu that Reid said will fall just a bit short of being a full-service restaurant, and will be similar to the lounge in the Holland hotel.

The 28 guest rooms will be distributed equally, with seven going on each of the four upper floors. No two rooms will be exactly alike.

“They’re all different, with different color schemes. The floor plans will kind of go up as a stack; (rooms) 201 and 301 will have the same floor plan, but they’ll have different furnishings and different colors,” said Reid.

Like the CityFlats in Holland, the Grand Rapids hotel will be LEED certified. Reid said he will try for a LEED Gold designation, which the Holland hotel has. He is solidly committed to at least a LEED Silver status. For Reid, being green is important.

“For us, the whole concept of Charter House and what we represent as a company is a green and eco-friendly type of environment. We try to translate Charter House to what we do as a company here into the hotel. That’s our mission.”

The Fox building was built in 1874. Until Charter House came forward with its hotel plan, it was one of two completely vacant structures on Monroe Center.

“Over the past 10 years, a number of different developers have tried to renovate the Fox Building. But, unfortunately, none of these projects were ever brought to fruition,” said Eric Pratt, a planner with the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority.

The DDA agreed to support the hotel project financially with a $75,000 building reuse grant, which will help cover some of the cost for the installation of a fire-suppression system, a fire-rated stair tower and restoration of the building’s façade.

Board members also agreed to enter into a contract that would return to the firm some of the tax-increment revenue generated by the hotel. The reimbursement could go as high as $180,000 and would be made through the DDA’s Development Support Policy. CityFlats GR would then use those funds to make the building completely handicap accessible.

Reid was invited to the White House as part of National Small Business Week when the U.S. Small Business Administration named him Michigan’s Small Businessman of the Year in 2010. He was one of 53 SBA honorees that attended a group luncheon and a Rose Garden address given by President Barack Obama, and one of only three award winners who met privately with the president in the Oval Office.

“When you have a chance to talk to Charles and you find out what he’s been doing in Michigan, creating a business that is expanding, working with restaurants and other institutions on their designs … you can’t help but be inspired,” said Obama about Reid. “And you realize that there are thousands of people all across America who, despite the odds, despite the naysayers, are going out there and making their dreams happen.”

The $3.4 million renovation project is being managed by GDK Construction and was designed by GMB Architecture — two Holland firms that played the same roles for the hotel there.

CityFlats GR is scheduled to open near the end of May. Guests will park in the city-owned Monroe Center ramp, situated just around the corner at Ottawa and Louis. The ramp’s enclosed walkway is attached to the hotel and will provide a temperature-controlled pathway to CityFlats.

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