Committee to provide community input to City hotel developers

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 9, 2018

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Grosse Pointe City officials and community stakeholders are expected to take a more active role in efforts by developers to come up with a Village hotel plan that everyone can support.

While a Village hotel is still far from a done deal, officials say, they hope a new committee will give the developers more direction about what residents, Village business owners and others think would be the best plan for the community.

Residents and business owners were among the dozens who packed a conference room in the Neighborhood Club for a Dec. 18 City Council meeting. Officials relocated the meeting from the usual council chambers to accommodate what they anticipated would be a larger-than-normal crowd.

The council voted 6-1 in favor of convening a committee to meet with developers to discuss hotel plan options. The motion, made by City Councilman Christopher Walsh, called for an eight-member committee to include a representative from the City’s Downtown Development Authority, Mayor Christopher Boettcher, a member of the council and stakeholders such as Village business owners and residents, and the hotel developers. During a Jan. 8 City Council meeting, the committee was expanded to nine members.

At press time, the council was targeting its April 16 meeting as the time for a presentation on the results from those committee sessions.

Curt Pedersen, the managing partner of Pedersen Development Company LLC — the City’s preferred developer — said during the December 18 meeting that the hotel concept has undergone a series of revisions based on feedback from businesses, residents, City officials and the like.

“We’ve really changed (the plan) a lot … since the RFP (request for proposal),” Pedersen said.

When they unveiled their proposal during a public meeting Feb. 13, 2017, the Pedersen proposal was for a 127-room hotel on Village Lot 3 with an average daily room rate of $168, along with 3,200 square feet of meeting space, a coffeehouse or pub, and outdoor seating for diners on St. Clair Street.

That concept also called for Lot 2 development that would include 9,800 square feet of retail, 24 residential units priced at $300,000 to $410,000, the option for another six residential units atop the parking garage for $595,000 to $715,000, and 315 spaces in the parking garage. The estimated project cost was $22 million.

But after residents and businesses expressed concerns about the negative impact this development could have on new businesses — some of which have their entrances or frontages off of Lot 3 — the developers revised their plan to relocate the hotel to Lot 2 instead. There was also concern about the loss of parking in Lot 3 from a hotel, as well as the safety of pedestrians and children attending a dance school whose entrance is off of Lot 3.

During the last series of revisions in October, Pedersen said they reduced the scope to a 105-room hotel that would be situated atop a 193-space parking garage on Lot 2. The building in that iteration would be five stories and 54 feet tall. Commercial was reduced as well, to 2,500 square feet of space on St. Clair Street. Pedersen said they did an environmental study for Lot 2 and looked into the idea of reducing the hotel room sizes.

“It seemed like the best solutions was not to have anything on Lot 3 … and just devote everything to Lot 2,” he said.

All the same, Pedersen said the developers were requesting “some guidance from the council” with regard to the possible project.

“We’d like that,” he said. “We need that.”

The per-room rate would increase with a reduction in the number of rooms, but Pedersen said they still need to make sure that the hotel would have enough rooms to be able to accommodate business groups like hospitals or automotive companies for conferences or other programs.

Pedersen said that between time and hard costs, the developers had already spent more than $100,000 reworking their concept. Lacking direction from the City, the developers stopped coming up with new plans in late October, just before the November City mayoral and council election.

Mayor Christopher Boettcher said the City needs to give the developers more direction — a sentiment echoed by other City officials.

City Councilman Andrew Turnbull apologized to the developers for City leaders not giving the developers “as much direction as we should have” and for not stopping speculation about the project.

“(During) the last election cycle, there was a wave of anti-hotel rhetoric and campaigning,” Turnbull said.

City Councilman John Stempfle thanked Pedersen Development for the time and money they’ve spent on the project. However, he said he’s no longer in favor of a Village hotel, citing the number of new hotels — including several upscale ones — that have opened, or are on the verge of opening, in downtown Detroit. He said there are now at least six new hotels that have been built or are now under construction downtown.

“Clearly, most people are against the hotel,” Stempfle said. “I no longer believe we need one. … I’m also concerned about the disruption this would have on Village businesses.”

City Councilman Donald Parthum Jr. said he understands Stempfle’s position, but he personally was “not totally against it.”

“I think the biggest hang-up we have is the size,” he said. “I don’t know that a five-story development is going to fit within the confines of our master plan or our (ordinances).”

Parthum said he also was concerned about the supposed $160 per night price point and “whether that is appropriate.” City officials have said they want to see an upscale boutique hotel, which would come with a higher room rate.

City Councilman Daniel Williams, who voiced opposition to the hotel while campaigning for his first term on council in November, said the more than 1,000 Grosse Pointe City residents he spoke with while campaigning all asked him about the hotel, and many expressed worries about the size. Williams said he was not in favor of a hotel on Lot 2.

“A five-story hotel does not fit within the parameters of the master plan of the City,” he said.

If the City was to get a hotel, Williams said, it should be of the caliber of upscale hotels like the Townsend in Birmingham “in terms of class and style.” City Councilman Christopher Walsh argued that the Townsend “is substantially, substantially larger than what’s being proposed here.” After the meeting, Pedersen said the Townsend has 150 rooms.

Walsh said that if City residents don’t want a hotel, “we won’t have a hotel,” but this process “got way off track.”

“We haven’t sat down with (the developers) to discuss what would or would not work,” Walsh said.

That’s been one of the problems, Pedersen said after the meeting.

“We really need (the council) to tell us what their vision (for a hotel) is,” he said, adding that the developers “want to be responsive to everybody.”

At the Dec. 18 meeting, the council voted in favor of establishing a committee to offer input on the hotel and to extend the preferred developer agreement with Pedersen Development until April 16. The agreement had been slated to expire Dec. 31, 2017. Williams cast the sole vote against this.

After the meeting, Pedersen said he doesn’t know what has sparked the rumors and speculation in the community about the hotel.

“I don’t know for sure where it’s coming from,” he said. “We always made it clear any iteration was to address problems that came up.”

Choice Hotels — the parent company of Cambria Hotels & Suites — also owns the Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Econo Lodge and several other brands. But Pedersen said fears that the Village hotel could become a lower-priced brand are unwarranted.

“A Comfort Inn is exactly what we don’t want,” he said after the meeting. Even if Pedersen Development inks a franchise agreement with Choice Hotels, he said the developers “would own the hotel,” so “it wouldn’t be that Choice would have any say in what we do.”

Pedersen said that as a Grosse Pointe City resident himself, he’s as concerned as the rest of the community about the caliber of the hotel.

“It needs to look good,” he said. “It needs to be well-appointed. We want it to be a destination-type hotel.”

After receiving requests for proposals from three prospective developers, the City Council voted unanimously Feb. 27, 2017, to select Pedersen Development — which proposed a Cambria Suites hotel — as the preferred developer. The City then signed an agreement with Pedersen Development, giving the developer exclusive negotiating rights to develop Village parking lots 2 and 3.

Pedersen Development Company LLC is based in Boulder, Colorado, but Curt Pedersen is based in Michigan and has had a home in Grosse Pointe City since 1998, and one in Fenton since 1980. Development Partner Dan Francis, one of the partners involved with the Whiskey Six bar and restaurant in the Village, has lived in the Pointes for 28 years and currently lives in Grosse Pointe Farms.