The western Michigan city of Grand Rapids is becoming a prime meetings destination, thanks largely to the rapid growth of the downtown area. And smack-dab at the center of it all is AHC Hospitality, the hotel subsidiary of Alitcor.
AHC was already managing three hotels in Grand Rapids—Amway Grand Plaza Grand Rapids, JW Marriott Grand Rapids and Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown—when it added AC Hotel by Marriott Grand Rapids Downtown and Hyatt Place Grand Rapids Downtown to the mix within the past six months. All the hotels are located downtown.
The new properties don’t significantly add to the available meeting space, but provide much-needed guest rooms during the city’s growth spurt. The minimalist AC Hotel, which opened in June in a renovated 127-year-old building, offers 130 guest rooms and 292 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hyatt Place, which was unveiled in October, features colorful, simple design, and has 160 guest rooms and 1,500 sq. ft.
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They complement Amway Grand Plaza (682 guest rooms, 47,120 sq. ft.), JW Marriott (337 guest rooms, 15,000 sq. ft.) and Courtyard (214 guest rooms, 9,949 sq. ft.). The two new properties also increase the brand options and provide easy access to downtown attractions, such as Grand Rapids Art Museum and craft breweries.
“What’s great about our properties here in the hotel district is we’re at the epicenter of activity, entertainment and launching,” says George Aquino, vice president and managing director of AHC Hospitality.
AHC Hospitality, originally known as Amway Hotel Corporation, purchased the iconic Pantlind Hotel, which debuted in 1913 with Beaux-Arts architecture, including one of the largest gold-leaf ceilings in the world, classical columns and terra cotta designs. After extensive renovations, AHC reopened the hotel in 1981 as Amway Grand Plaza. The company was careful to retain many of the distinguishing features of Pantlind, while adding a 29-story glass tower.
“Amway Grand Plaza really spearheaded the growth of Grand Rapids,” Aquino says.
The hotel now features rooms ranging from historic to contemporary, from modest to magnificent. Despite its great size and scope, it feels like a cozy, intimate property, and is very welcoming to groups. Amway Grand Plaza continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing tastes of residents and visitors: Last month, for instance, it added IDC (I Don’t Care), an all-season balcony bar featuring funky, retro-inspired cocktails and local craft beers, along with a soundtrack of favorite songs from the ‘70s.
Many other bars, restaurants and entertainment venues have been opening in the downtown area, giving the state’s second-largest city a big boost as a meetings destination. Aquino emphasizes that Grand Rapids—long known mainly as Furniture City due to its abundance of quality furniture-makers—is expanding the variety of its offerings. This is paying dividends for AHC Hospitality, he says.
“Our goal is, ‘If it’s good for Grand Rapids, then it’s going to be good for us.’ So, we enjoy that we are growing so much, with all these new restaurants, all these entertainment districts around and [the city becoming known as] Beer City USA—and now we’re becoming a cocktail culture right here in downtown Grand Rapids.”
“What’s great about it is we have our own identity: While Detroit is the [economic and cultural] capital of Michigan, Grand Rapids is the western capital,” he says. “We’re very proud of our culture here, and it’s really a great place to visit—it’s friendly, it’s clean and it’s walkable. We really would like to have everyone come to visit us at some point.”