When Parkland Properties of Michigan’s Jon Rooks purchased the Shoreline Inn, Muskegon’s only waterfront hotel, in 2009, it was struggling—as was the entire area. The economy had crashed, more than 10,000 county residents were facing unemployment, and, at the Shoreline, just half of its 140 rooms were open, and there had been the very real possibility it would shutter entirely.
“Shoreline Inn was going to close down and lose all its employees,” said Rooks, a developer who, since purchasing that hotel, has gone on to redevelop the former Hackley Bank building into the Highpoint Flats apartment and retail space, develop the Terrace Point Landing residential community on Muskegon Lake, and purchase the Holiday Inn in downtown Muskegon.
“We bought it so we could save the jobs and keep it open; we didn’t make money for the first six months while we investigated whether we’d keep it as a hotel or make it into a retirement village, apartment building, or office building,” Rooks said. “It was 2009, and everything was bad.”
But, things began to turn around. Rooks brought on a new manager, Doug Pollock, and the Shoreline went on to quadruple the hotel’s income in four years. Using that money, Rooks was able to invest millions into renovating the hotel.
As the hotel grew, so did the city and region: Muskegon County’s unemployment, which had spiked to nearly 17 percent by July 2009, plummeted; it now hovers between 3 and 3.6 percent (or about 5,000 people). Businesses and restaurants started opening in Muskegon; companies began to relocate here. The downtown that consisted of a series of dirt roads following Muskegon Mall’s closure in 2001 was becoming a distant memory.
Which brings us to 2013: the year Rooks bought the Holiday Inn at the corner of Third Street and Western Avenue in downtown Muskegon.
“We saw it as an opportunity to do the same thing with the Holiday Inn as we’d done at the Shoreline,” Rooks said. “We thought we could make a big impact there if we could come up with a way to make the property do well in the colder season, not just the summer.”
But how do you do that? As Rooks watched Muskegon’s significant growth over the past decade and the influx of tourists—his two hotels alone have seen an increase in visitors from 45,000 people to now more than 125,000 annually—he knew Muskegon could draw big crowds, and he wanted to see those numbers grow further.
“There’s a sense of pride here in Muskegon that everyone is part of,” Rooks said. “There’s a velocity here that doesn’t exist in any other waterfront community on Lake Michigan. That really gets people fired up. You come back to this town after being gone for two months, and things look different.”
Enter: the $19 million convention center in downtown Muskegon that officials just broke ground on this week and which is slated to open in 2021. The center will be located between the Holiday Inn and the L.C. Walker Arena.
“We knew what would make the big difference for the [Holiday Inn] would be the convention center; the convention center will do what the Farmers Market does for our downtown in the summer months, but in the off season,” said Rooks, who has partnered with the city and county to develop the center.
As part of the convention center plans, Rooks agreed to a $6 million renovation and rebranding of the Holiday Inn, which is about to debut as a Delta Hotels by Marriott in early June. The $6 million renovation, as well as $2 million in repairs, is resulting in a project that includes everything from two restaurants and bar to a coffee shop, VIP lounge, and more.
And it sets the stage for the venue to host the crowds of people expected to visit the incoming convention center.
“Almost everything you see in the hotel is new,” Pollock, who helped Rooks turn around the Shoreline Inn and is now the Holiday Inn’s general manager, said during a tour of the new hotel Tuesday afternoon. Organized by Visit Muskegon as part of the organization’s National Tourism Week events, the tour gave the public a chance to glimpse the hotel as it enters its final moments of construction.
“We’ve replaced almost everything,” continued Pollock, who too will run Muskegon’s Delta Hotels by Marriott. “This is how much the ownership of this hotel believes in Muskegon; they invested as much in this renovation as the building originally cost in 2013. They believe it’s the right thing to do.”
The 150,000-square-foot transformed hotel space includes 200 rooms and will be better able to accommodate the visitors expected to come to Muskegon for shows and other gatherings at the convention center, Pollock said. The venue includes Timbers 939, an upscale restaurant; The Mill, a casual restaurant and bar; a Starbucks; a reception area; an exercise space that’s grown from 400 square feet to 1,200 square feet and features all new equipment; a grab-n-go marketplace; a VIP lounge; meeting space with carpets meant to evoke Muskegon’s waterways; and more.
“The big impetus behind us changing is the new convention center,” Pollock said. “You need a convention hotel to go along with a convention center.”
In addition to the hotel playing a starring role in the convention center’s success (and vice versa), the Marriott venue too will provide a gateway for tourists into Muskegon at large, Visit Muskegon Director Bob Lukens said at Tuesday’s event.
“Seventy-six percent of Americans say a firsthand, personal experience is instrumental in forming their perceptions of a community,” Lukens said. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression…When people walk through that door, they’re going to say, ‘Wow, this place is great. What a transformation.’”
For many of those involved in conversations surrounding the convention center and the city’s growth, all of this—the millions being poured into the convention center and the hotel, the venues themselves, the economic impact it’s expected to have on businesses throughout the downtown and city—is part of something even bigger, a narrative about a city in flight.
“If we look back on this 20 years from now, we are going to this as a transformational era,” Downtown Muskegon Executive Director Dave Alexander said Tuesday. “Be prepared for exciting changes.”
Rooks too emphasized this.
“It’s going to have a big impact; visitors visit once sometimes, but a lot of times they’ll come back, and it causes a snowball effect,” he said. “Visitors tell others visitors and bring friends; that’s how cities grow and become prosperous, like Grand Rapids did.”
“I feel like Muskegon’s in the same place as Grand Rapids was in 2003,” Rooks continued. “We’re investing ahead of the curve. I’m selling stuff in Grand Rapids to pay for the stuff I’m doing in Muskegon because it’s the right place and the right time. It’s a good time to sell in Grand Rapids and a great time to invest in Muskegon.”