Hotels are booming in southeast Oakland County

Posted on January 16, 2019

When most developers open a hotel, they call big corporations, event planners and tour groups to drum up business. In the case of the Hyatt Place Royal Oak, people started calling before it even opened in November to find out when they could book rooms.

That is how Namou Hotel Group, which manages the Hyatt Place and opened eight new hotels in Michigan last year, knew its latest development on Main Street would be a success.

“The demand is there,” said Chris Abbo, Namou’s vice president of construction and operations. “Take the Christmas week for example. The volume at the Royal Oak Hyatt was the best out of all the properties we have. Normally, we see a slowdown at the holidays. People wanted to be there.”

Hotels are suddenly hot in southeast Oakland County, which is seeing a mini boom along Woodward Avenue, with new properties and impressive renovations that are upping the number of rooms available at a key time in the region’s development.

In addition to the 6-story, 123-room Hyatt Place, new hotels are planned for downtown Birmingham and at the Woodward Corners development at 13 Mile and Woodward in Royal Oak. The DoubleTree Hilton at Long Lake and Woodward in Bloomfield Hills just reopened after a complete overhaul and the Townsend Hotel in downtown Birmingham has completed $15 million in renovations in recent years.

This growth comes when Detroit has seen the opening of the Shinola Hotel, the Element at the Metropolitan and others. As a result, occupancy rates downtown have reached an average of 70% as the city attracts more events and meetings, according to the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The number of rooms available across Oakland County, including the southeast region, has increased about 11% over the last five years, from 13,500 rooms to about 15,000, said Michael O’Callaghan, COO of the convention and visitors bureau.

“Southeast Michigan and the city of Detroit have become more attractive destinations for meeting planners, conventions, leisure visitors as well as friends and family visiting … The changes here are because of Detroit’s renaissance and the Pure Michigan campaign, which have caught people’s attention.”

Having more hotels opening in Detroit is helpful because it brings more events and conventions to the city as well as the suburbs, O’Callaghan said. If there is an overflow from Detroit, those attendees always end up in cities such as Troy, Birmingham and Royal Oak, he noted. Everyone benefits from having a new property open or a well-done renovation to an existing hotel.

Occupancy rates for the region are at about 70%, a big improvement over the 48% seen after the economic downturn in 2008 — and a sign of a healthier market and greater demand, O’Callaghan said.

Demand in Royal Oak

In Royal Oak, residents and businesses were asking for more hotels, particularly downtown, said Todd Fenton, the city’s economic development manager. Law firms and other companies wanted a place for clients to stay when they were in town, and residents wanted a local spot to host family as well as a new place to entertain people.

Fenton also is excited by the re-imagining in recent years of the former motor lodge on 11 Mile, east of Main, that became a boutique property known as Hotel Royal Oak. That new site combined with the Hyatt Place and a potential hotel at 13 Mile and Woodward bodes well for the future, which he said hopefully also includes great retail, residential and transit options for area residents.

“That’s how we keep this economic engine churning,” Fenton said. “We’re trying to balance a lot of interests which can be competing at times. But, ultimately, people love this community because of its diversity and we want to continue that. It makes for a great community.”

Downtown Royal Oak’s nearby highways, restaurants and shops, as well as mix of need from residents and corporations, made it a good spot for a hotel. The Hyatt Place Royal Oak filled “a hole in the doughnut” in the Woodward Avenue strip, Abbo and others agree.

Luxe rooms in Birmingham

 A few miles north along Woodward, the luxury Townsend Hotel in downtown Birmingham has seen the hotel boom trend and expects it to continue, said Managing Director Steven Kalczynski.

It faces new competition from the luxury Daxton Boutique Hotel on Old Woodward, an estimated $55 million project with a five-story, mixed-use building that combines a 143-room hotel with a restaurant, ballroom, commercial space and residential rental units. The project broke ground in October.

“We welcome competition,” Kalczynski said. That means adding amenities at the Townsend that continue to attract a luxury customer, such as Bose radios, Nespresso coffee machines, white-noise machines and 49-inch televisions in all guest rooms. Its three Presidential Suites have high-end Hastens hand-crafted, all-natural fiber mattresses as well as Frette linens with 300-thread counts.

The Townsend has invested more than $15 million in décor, room updates and additions since Kalczynski joined the staff nearly seven years ago. The 150-room hotel known for its celebrity clientele and home to athletes visiting metro Detroit has a luxurious environment. It has been recognized by AAA Four-Diamond for more than 30 years and Forbes Travel Guide rated as a Four Star Hotel. The Rugby Grille restaurant inside the hotel is also a Wine Spectator two-glass award winner and Forbes rated.

“In order for Detroit to be able to attract some of the large conferences, it is important for these hotel developments to continue to occur,” Kalczynski said. “We benefit as well. But we know that hotels have to evolve every year, so we’re always taking a step back and looking at our product to see what needs ‘rejuvenation’ and is new and exciting in the market and what we need to do to stay competitive.”

Karen Dybis, Detroit Free Press.