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Character Inn, Possible Student Housing, Theatre?

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Developer considers student housing in Character Inn

Posted by Ron Fonger July 05, 2007 16:45PM

Categories: Flint

FLINT -- The developer who's been negotiating for months to buy the Character Inn says the area can't support such a large downtown hotel and wants to turn the 16-story building into student housing for the University of Michigan-Flint.

Dale Bernards, a Portland, Ore., real estate developer and investor, said he remains interested in buying the former Hyatt Regency hotel but said a market study convinced him it would be foolhardy to try to operate it as a 369-room hotel again.

"We spent a lot of money on a study that indicated there was not demand for that," said Bernards.

The building hasn't been used as a traditional hotel since 2000 when it was sold to the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which used it for religious conferences, special events, and a residential program for college-age students until late last year.

Bernards said his discussions with UM-Flint make him believe the hotel could be converted into student apartments, a limited number of hotel rooms -- probably no more than 30, and perhaps a faculty lounge, dining area and movie theater.

"Our primary objective is to cooperative rather than compete with the university," he said. "We feel the demand is there if the correct product is built."

Genesee County Treasurer Daniel Kildee said the idea has merit and the county Land Bank might be willing to help along a redevelopment by investing in Riverbank Park, which is located immediately north of the hotel.

The Land Bank has plans to begin converting the old Berridge Hotel downtown into condominiums and is considering redevelopment of the larger Durant Hotel as well.

Kildee, chairman of the Land Bank, said making Riverbank Park more accessible and appealing would benefit all three properties.

Although students have been talked about as a potential market for apartments in the Durant, Kildee said the redevelopment of the Character Inn would help his project by graduating more students into the market who have lived downtown and are interested in something different.

A report on Riverbank Park by the Project for Public Spaces of New York earlier this year recommended several changes, including closing the lower level of the park, on the north side of the river, between Harrison and Garland streets.

"I've encouraged (Bernards) to move in that direction," Kildee said of the redevelopment for UM housing. "We would be willing to consider a supportive role if they move in that direction."

The university announced in April that it would build more than 300 apartment-style suites as student housing for first- and second-year students as well as international students.

University spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan confirmed that officials have talked with Bernards but have made no agreements about the university having a presence in the building or referring students there.

"We are more than willing to talk to developers about projects that are of benefit to our students," Hogan said.

Bernards said he thinks Flint's future development prospects are better than what many people think. He's visited the city more than 10 times since starting talks about the Character Inn.

He said he is considering construction of a smaller, more modern hotel in downtown -- something with about one-quarter the rooms of the Character Inn.

Character Inn

RiverfrontCharacterInnSE.jpg

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This sounds like a much more sensible usage than the current usuage. I agree, I'm not sure if the downtown can currently support a hotel of such a size, anymore, and to turn it towards mixed-usage would definitely be a better bet. It would make a a great dormitory and/or student-geared apartments for U-of-M, and the university has showed it willingness to redevelop existing properties in downtown Flint. This would really be huge.

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I know, with the new 300 bed student apartment, this and the durant hotel, thats alot of new downtown patrons and residents in the next two years, on top of the new lofts and condo residents. I just hope the new smaller hotel is dense, hopefully mixed used, not something you would find in the suburbs and whatnot.

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Personally, I think there are enough units for student living coming this year. The new dorms on campus and the Durant should be enough for starters if it took this much convincing to get its first ok for on-campus living. Maybe there was a reason for that.

And only keeping 30 hotel rooms for a formerly 369-room hotel? Maybe if there were alternatives other than a motel on Court St. and a Holiday Express nearby. Over 10,000 participants compete in just the single main event of the Crim Festival of Races and there will only be maybe 100 rooms available anywhere near downtown? C'mon.

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But, don't you think that if downtown could support a 300+ room hotel, that the Character Inn would have long since been used by another hotel chain? You can't run a hotel on a large, one-day event. The only other way for a hotel of that size to be supported is if the downtown was hosting regular, significant conferences/conventions. Perhaps, dorms are not the best use of the structure, but neither is running it as the Character Inn.

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Sorry for the late reply. I should have clarified. I agree that 370 rooms is too much for daily operations, but 30 rooms just seems like a drastic drop. That's almost an insignificant number of rooms.

But, now that I think about it, dorm rooms might be able to work if some of the rooms could be used for hotel lodging during the summer months when most students go home and there are more downtown events going on. I just don't want this to get in the way of the Durant project and I'm not sure how many people would want to stay in a building that's 90% dorm when they visit.

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Number of students living downtown could reach 1,0001,000 to 2,000 may be seen in Flint in 5 years

By Cathy Shafran

FLINT (WJRT) - (08/30/07)--It's a number that downtown Flint developers area are talking a lot about these days. It's the number of students who may be living in the downtown area one day.

And speculation is that it's a number now moving past the 1,000 mark.

There definitely has been a lot of talk amongst developers. Most of the talk involves a range of between 1,000 to 2,000 students in the downtown area within five or so years.

One of those who did some looking at the numbers before moving ahead with his plans is the prospective buyer of the Character Inn across Saginaw Street from the University of Michigan-Flint.

Dale Bernards said he ran the numbers for several uses of the hotel, including a hotel, apartment house or senior citizen housing complex.

Only student housing turned out to be a viable option for development in downtown Flint.

Bernards says his representatives have also conducted field studies in the Flint area indicating that students would be inclined toward living in a downtown facility that had amenities such as a movie theatre, workout area and state-of-the-art electronics.

And it is these studies that Bernard says has him moving ahead with the project to turn this building into a 580-bed student housing facility by next fall.

He said he has a closing date of Nov. 1 on the project. Before then, he hopes to negotiate additional parking for the students -- parking that may develop behind the Citizen's Bank building.

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