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daniel nudnik

GR Press Editorial on New Hotel

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Planning for success

Monday, March 28, 2005

"Grand Rapids' planning commissioners should be rolling out the red carpet for a proposed downtown hotel. Instead, they're putting up roadblocks that threaten both the project and downtown's continued revival.

The Grand Rapids City Commission, which will have the final say, must reject such small-mindedness.

Grand Rapids will succeed only to the extent that elected and appointed officials welcome rejuvenating investment. They don't have to be cheerleaders. But they can't be flame-throwers, either, insisting on frivolous dictates.

Alticor Inc. wants to build a hotel on the site of the former Israels building at the corner of Pearl Street and Campau Avenue, across from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

The $100 million project would include a 340-room tower, a separate ballroom that can seat 1,000, meeting space and additional parking. Marriott Corp. would run the 4-star operation.

As part of the plan, developers want to build two skywalks. One would connect the ballroom to a parking ramp across Louis Street. A second would cross Campau Avenue to existing parking, and link to a downtown skywalk system that leads to DeVos Place Convention Center and the Van Andel Arena. Planning commissioners recommended against the Campau skywalk because it would keep pedestrians from the street.

Planning Commissioner Peter Carlberg -- bizarrely -- compared the hotel to a "fortress" and said the "whole structure seems designed to keep everyone at least one floor from the rest of us."

Uh, no. It's designed to keep them out of the rain and snow. When the thermometer climbs and the skies are clear, people will return to the streets. In Michigan's unforgiving winters, a skywalk is a necessity, not an amenity.

A similar myopia was at work last week when planning commissioners nixed rule changes that would have allowed lighted signs on the sides of the convention center and arena. The signs help attract visitors and would be limited to 10 events a year for eight days each event. Yet Planning Commissioner Gabriel Works called them "visual noise." Better a little noise than silent streets.

Also important to the hotel is a helicopter landing pad on the roof. The planning commissioners excised the plan from the hotel proposal when they approved it.

Loud, dust-raising choppers are an understandable concern, especially for nearby residents.

Alticor could address much of that worry by moving the landing pad from its proposed location 54 feet from street level, to the top of the development's highest tower, 240 feet above the street.

The relocated helipad would add an amenity to the city, allowing for dignitaries to be quickly ferried in and out. Also, it would reduce traffic congestion for major events such as presidential visits.

Regulations would prohibit its use between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and limit take-offs and landings to two a day and 15 a month.

The landing pad would be available to police for emergencies.

All of those are solid reasons for it to stay in the hotel plan. City Commissioners should see to it.

The sky could be the limit in downtown's boom -- if the sky includes walkways, helicopters and lighted signs."

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For my part, I think the editorial staff has some solid points. I wasn't sold on the helistop, but I support it given the reasons the press has supplied.

As for skywalks, I do think they are a bad idea. Pedestrian life must be directed toward the streets, not into the buildings. Northern cities have thrived for hundreds of years without skywalks. I don't see why we need to build webs above our streets when we could put hats and gloves on and take the sidewalk.

I do concur with the commission in seeing the hotel design, at street level, as fortress-like. The new hotel's architects, in spite of their bold addition to the city's skyline, seem, sadly, to misunderstand the point of city structures: to create linkages and tie-ins to the urban environment, to add life and interest to streets, to generate a feeling of community. Designers must, in the future, work with these goals in mind.

As for the Alticor hotel, I say bring the helistop and the lighted signs. Since a redesign of the base floors of the hotel isn't likely to happen, the least we can do is reject the skywalks. We might as well cut our losses and take a chance on the new things that offer some interest and promise.

Planning for success

Monday, March 28, 2005

"Grand Rapids' planning commissioners should be rolling out the red carpet for a proposed downtown hotel. Instead, they're putting up roadblocks that threaten both the project and downtown's continued revival.

The Grand Rapids City Commission, which will have the final say, must reject such small-mindedness.

Grand Rapids will succeed only to the extent that elected and appointed officials welcome rejuvenating investment. They don't have to be cheerleaders. But they can't be flame-throwers, either, insisting on frivolous dictates.     

Alticor Inc. wants to build a hotel on the site of the former Israels building at the corner of Pearl Street and Campau Avenue, across from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

The $100 million project would include a 340-room tower, a separate ballroom that can seat 1,000, meeting space and additional parking. Marriott Corp. would run the 4-star operation.

As part of the plan, developers want to build two skywalks. One would connect the ballroom to a parking ramp across Louis Street. A second would cross Campau Avenue to existing parking, and link to a downtown skywalk system that leads to DeVos Place Convention Center and the Van Andel Arena. Planning commissioners recommended against the Campau skywalk because it would keep pedestrians from the street.

Planning Commissioner Peter Carlberg -- bizarrely -- compared the hotel to a "fortress" and said the "whole structure seems designed to keep everyone at least one floor from the rest of us."

Uh, no. It's designed to keep them out of the rain and snow. When the thermometer climbs and the skies are clear, people will return to the streets. In Michigan's unforgiving winters, a skywalk is a necessity, not an amenity.

A similar myopia was at work last week when planning commissioners nixed rule changes that would have allowed lighted signs on the sides of the convention center and arena. The signs help attract visitors and would be limited to 10 events a year for eight days each event. Yet Planning Commissioner Gabriel Works called them "visual noise." Better a little noise than silent streets.

Also important to the hotel is a helicopter landing pad on the roof. The planning commissioners excised the plan from the hotel proposal when they approved it.

Loud, dust-raising choppers are an understandable concern, especially for nearby residents.

Alticor could address much of that worry by moving the landing pad from its proposed location 54 feet from street level, to the top of the development's highest tower, 240 feet above the street.

The relocated helipad would add an amenity to the city, allowing for dignitaries to be quickly ferried in and out. Also, it would reduce traffic congestion for major events such as presidential visits.

Regulations would prohibit its use between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and limit take-offs and landings to two a day and 15 a month.

The landing pad would be available to police for emergencies.

All of those are solid reasons for it to stay in the hotel plan. City Commissioners should see to it.

The sky could be the limit in downtown's boom -- if the sky includes walkways, helicopters and lighted signs."

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Planning for success

Monday, March 28, 2005

"Grand Rapids' planning commissioners should be rolling out the red carpet for a proposed downtown hotel. Instead, they're putting up roadblocks that threaten both the project and downtown's continued revival.

The Grand Rapids City Commission, which will have the final say, must reject such small-mindedness.

Grand Rapids will succeed only to the extent that elected and appointed officials welcome rejuvenating investment. They don't have to be cheerleaders. But they can't be flame-throwers, either, insisting on frivolous dictates.

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I agree Freddy. I walk in the skywalks when it is frigid, and I walk outside when it is not. I also know when to get out to get where I am going. Since the Skywalk will basically go from the hotel to the parking garage and the parking garage to the skywalk that already exists, I say let them have it.

I do agree that the Ballroom space is a bit fortress like. The only part that I am disappointed about in the entire design.

As far as helicopters. Let them fly! However, I don't think they are going to redesign the space to put the helipad on top of the tower. I don't think it is quite as easy as the press makes it sound... :)

Joe

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Skywalks - done properly - use high-profile signage (on street-level and on skywalk-level) just like the subways do and let pedestrians know of every opportunity to switch between skywalk level and street level (WE NEED ESCALATORS AT SUCH JUNCTURES HERE). GR doesn't do this and wonders why there is a concern. EGAD! Leave the skywalks alone, add more of them and DON'T FORGET THE DAMN TRANSITION SIGNS. :blink: AND THIS IS THE TIME TO LISTEN TO FREDDY!!!! Emulating the comprehensive mixed-use function of Minneapolis' sykwalk system is truly needed here and will be addressed in the upcoming METROPOLITAN CENTER charrette (STAY TUNED ON THAT).

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Tis what I thought too. Also, yes for signs. All kinds of signs. The more the better. Pittsburgh is an example of how signs work well in an urban environment. For its part the PATH underground system in toronto is well-signed and wonderful too.

FINALLY something smart out of the press

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Honestly, I don't even think the city understands their sign ordinance. They relaxed it several years ago to allow for more innovative signage. They then IMMEDIATELY told the Brass Works Building that their cool mural had to come down because it was a sign. A fight ensued and then the city realized that the mural actually fit within their new definition of signage. I swear that some people in the city are constantly on crack. ;)

Gabriel Works calls it "Visual Noise". I call it innovative use of space. Unique promotion. And a helluva lot cooler than draping a vinyl banner across our beautiful new convention center. Wake up people and get over yourselves... ;)

Joe

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The city commission approved both skywalks today. No word on the Helistop.

Joe

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Complaints table hotel plan

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

By Jim Harger

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- Don't roll out the red carpet for Alticor's new downtown hotel yet.

Faced with another flurry of objections from competing hotel operators and other tax-supported institutions, city commissioners Tuesday tabled a plan that would have spent $5 million in public funds for street, sidewalk, skywalk and floodwall improvements for the $100 million hotel project.

The plan calls for the city's Downtown Development Authority to fund the improvements as part of a local match required so Alticor can qualify for a $7 million Single Business Tax Credit from the state.

Alticor officials say the DDA funding and tax credit are necessary to build the 24-story, 340-room Marriott hotel that would be linked via skywalks to the DeVos Place convention center, the Van Andel Arena and its other downtown hotels.

Bert Crandell, manager of the hotel project, said the one-week delay doesn't mean the Alticor project is in trouble.

"I think it's a complex issue," Crandell said. "It's very hard to get an understanding of it if you don't look into the facts."

Objections to the DDA plan fell into two categories: Business owners who believe Alticor is being subsidized unfairly with taxpayer dollars, and other taxing entities who believe the DDA's plan revision also includes an unneeded 30-year extension of its authority to dip into their tax levies.

The competing hoteliers repeated many of the same arguments presented two weeks earlier, when the DDA plan won the commission's preliminary approval on a 6-1 vote.

Robert Sullivan, owner of the Days Inn Hotel across the Grand River from the proposed hotel, complained he got very little public assistance when he built his hotel.

Dana Snoap, a lawyer representing competing hotel operators, said skywalks that could be funded by the DDA plan will be connected only to other hotels owned by Alticor.

Other complaints came from Kent County Finance Director Robert White, Grand Rapids Community College Vice President Robert Partridge and Peter Varga, director of the Interurban Transit Partnership.

They did not oppose the hotel project but another part of the DDA plan amendment that would extend its taxing authority by three years.

Because the DDA has the power to skim property taxes they otherwise would receive, they argued the extension could mean less money for their programs.

First Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt moved to table the DDA plan, saying enough questions were raised for him to need another week.

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This is an interesting subject. While I'm sure they will get the DDA money (and I agree that they should), I do find it ironic that the city opens up the purse strings on this project, but fought *SO* hard to get the Gallium Group get to "zero" with no public funds involved.

We talk about the wall of shame when walking out of the convention center, that wouldn't be the case if the Gallium tower went up. This kind of politiking is crap. I think the city should be more than happy to make an investment in the greater good of the city, whether it is the DeVos'* or not.

* I must note that I am not one of the typical DeVos/VanAndel haters. I'd let them rename Grand Rapids Devosville if they promised to pump a couple billion into the city. ;)

Joe

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This is an interesting subject. While I'm sure they will get the DDA money (and I agree that they should), I do find it ironic that the city opens up the purse strings on this project, but fought *SO* hard to get the Gallium Group get to "zero" with no public funds involved.

We talk about the wall of shame when walking out of the convention center, that wouldn't be the case if the Gallium tower went up. This kind of politiking is crap. I think the city should be more than happy to make an investment in the greater good of the city, whether it is the DeVos'* or not.

* I must note that I am not one of the typical DeVos/VanAndel haters. I'd let them rename Grand Rapids Devosville if they promised to pump a couple billion into the city. ;)

Joe

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

:blink: Wow, Joe. Then I could look forward to my every waking hour in "DeVosville" reminding me of how much many Dutch folks have been oppressive to my spirit and my Africentric way of life ( " . . . . if you're not Dutch, you're not much . . . . blah blah blah). An expenditure like that would fall under the category of "not all money is good money", Joe. The Alticor tower - AT LEAST - does not reflect any notion of West Michigan conservative Dutchness. I had to be real with you on this one, man. -_-

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Joe, I think I have to disagree with you on this one, and I believe the City made the right decision by tabling the plan. The money is not "city money", rather it is DDA money, which is from additional taxes taken from downtown properties. I really do not see how it is in the best interest of other hotels to ante up the money to help the development of the hotel. The tabling reveals that the democratic political process is alive and well in G.R. Rather than bowing to the pressures of a wealthy developer that will "really put G.R. on the map", they are taking a more cautious approach that will probably be better for the city and downtown businesses in the long run. Alcitor will still build the hotel, but the city will now get a better deal out of proposal. I compare the process to what happened recently in D.C. to build the new stadium. Council members got to caught up in the awe of the moment and did not do what is fiscally right for their constituency. One councilwomen demanded that it was wrong for the city to pay for the entire project and demanded that if it be built a substantial portion of the project be funded by private sources. An outcry arose from boosters of the project, but within a few short months funding sources have been identified and the city will no longer pay for the entire thing. The G.R. hotel and the council members have exhibited the same qualities as the councilwoman in D.C. and the city, the DDA, and downtown property owners will get a better deal out of the tabling at the end of the day. For once I am proud of the forward-thinking elected officials in G.R. and their ability to face the criticism in the short-run for the long-term benefits it will bring the city.

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Honestly, I don't even think the city understands their sign ordinance. They relaxed it several years ago to allow for more innovative signage. They then IMMEDIATELY told the Brass Works Building that their cool mural had to come down because it was a sign. A fight ensued and then the city realized that the mural actually fit within their new definition of signage. I swear that some people in the city are constantly on crack. ;)

Gabriel Works calls it "Visual Noise". I call it innovative use of space. Unique promotion. And a helluva lot cooler than draping a vinyl banner across our beautiful new convention center. Wake up people and get over yourselves... ;)

Joe

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Planning Commission passed a recomendation to approve the lights for the convention center. The suggestion to use them at the arena was rejected - despite support from Bill Hoyt (which is interesting because they usually regard him as very reasonable and authorative.)

(btw, Works almost always a complaint about the proposals)

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:) No problem Metrogrkid, I can take my lumps. I fortunately grew up in an area that didn't live by that philosophy (honestly, I had never heard the "If you're not dutch..." phrase until I read it on this forum).

I guess my point, so bluntly stated, was that I think the DDA should be able to embrace growth, that is what the DDA is for. If the DDA has to constantly worry about playing favorites, nothing will get done.

Would one jewelry store be able to complain to the DDA because a competitor happens to be on a street where a new streetscape was planned, giving them a leg up?

The convention center needs another major hotel to attract bigger conventions. When these visitors come, Grand Rapids need to have its best face on. I think it is a fair investment to make to ensure the longterm viability of the convention center.

[END RAMBLING] :)

Joe

:blink:  Wow, Joe.  Then I could look forward to my every waking hour in "DeVosville" reminding me of how much many Dutch folks have been oppressive to my spirit and my Africentric way of life ( " . . . . if you're not Dutch, you're not much . . . . blah blah blah).  An expenditure like that would fall under the category of "not all money is good money", Joe.  The Alticor tower - AT LEAST - does not reflect any notion of West Michigan conservative Dutchness.  I had to be real with you on this one, man.  -_-

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