New hotel in downtown Flint symbolizes city's comeback

FLINT, Michigan — A peek inside the new Flint Hilton Garden Inn shows a modern design with Art Deco flair and historic preservation around every corner, but it requires a look at Flint’s past to really understand how and why this project is such a big deal.
The need for hotel accommodations in downtown Flint has been talked about for years, decades really. The former Hyatt Hotel — which later converted to the Radisson, then a Ramada Inn, and is now a residence hall for University of Michigan-Flint students — closed in 2000. It quasi-operated as a hotel and religious institute for several years after, but was primarily closed to visitors.
And, two decades ago, downtown was largely empty. A majority of storefronts were boarded up with facades covering years of neglect, and dependable standbys like Churchills and The Torch were few and far between. 
“The transformation of the historic Genesee County Savings Bank into a modern Hilton Garden Inn will symbolize to the region and beyond that the revitalization of Flint is under way,” said Tim Herman, CEO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.
The hotel comes on years of growth downtown, starting with the investments from Uptown Development that opened 501 Bar and Grill followed by more coffee shops, more bars, more restaurants and, recently, more retail stores.
Related story: Downtown Flint seeing dramatic increase in retail businesses
Hotels in particular are important for a thriving downtown area, because they play a role in building a sense of community, said Matt Bach, director of communications for the Michigan Municipal League. Along with something to see and do — visitors also need someplace to stay. 
“Hotels can play an important part in placemaking because when people come to a community or Downtown for its many activities, amenities and festivals, they’ll need a place to stay,” Bach said. “The League actively supports the idea of placemaking and we encourage our communities to have and create spaces and amenities that attract people and businesses.”  
The downtown Flint hotel also comes on the heels of dramatic increases in hotel occupancy rates in the area. After slight increases for the previous three years, hotel occupancy jumped in 2018 by 11 percent to 62.4 percent.  
The Hilton Garden Inn is one of three new hotels opening in Genesee County this year — and it couldn’t have come at a better time, said Gerard Burnash, executive director of the Flint Downtown Development Authority. 
“Downtown Flint has been experiencing a rise in foot and auto traffic as more and more businesses open downtown,” Burnash said. The hotel allows local businesses to more easily schedule multi-day trainings and seminars, and it offers even more “opportunities for an incredible experience downtown.”
The $36.5 million project is being developed by Uptown Reinvestment Corporation, a nonprofit committed to revitalizing downtown Flint. It is financed through $8 million in funding from the state of Michigan as well as support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Skypoint Ventures, LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation), Huntington Bank and Old National Bank. 
Herman called the project “another lightning rod for downtown Flint” during a media event Wednesday to show off the under-construction space and give a preview of what the hotel rooms will look like. 
Related story: Downtown Flint hotel to feature Italian restaurant, rooftop bar
The 11-story hotel will feature a coffee shop, restaurant, rooftop lounge, and meeting space as well as 101 guestrooms. The facility will stretch the full block of Kearsley Street from South Saginaw Street to Beach Street and include a new greenspace at the hotel’s main entrance along Kearsley near Beach Street. 
Construction is being managed jointly by Sorensen Gross and DW Lurvey Co., both local builders. Detroit-based Kraemer Design Group is serving as architect, interior designer and historic consultant. 
Even filled with construction materials and exposed beams, the building’s historic details were easy to spot during the tour — including original plaster work, etched glass, and grand, two-story windows. Originally built in 1920 and known as the Genesee County Savings Bank Building, the structure features both an Italian Renaissance Revival and Art Deco styles. 
“Historic buildings are an essential part of bringing new life to great cities, and through the preservation of the Genesee County Savings Bank Building our team has been incredible focused on implementing innovative design and details to this soon-to-be standout hospitality destination,” said Bob Kraemer, principal and co-founder of Kraemer Design Group.

Read more articles by Marjory Raymer.