Battle Creek

McCamly Plaza Hotel will be place to stay for guests and a place to learn for hospitality students

The renovated hotel will operate as a DoubleTree by Hilton.
A $59 million investment in the complete overhaul of the McCamly Plaza Hotel will also pay huge dividends to area high school and college students interested in pursuing careers in the hospitality industry, says Joe Sobieralski, President and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, which is spearheading the redevelopment project with its affiliate 50 Capital Avenue Development Corp.

As he and his team work to finalize the financial piece of the project and look forward to putting up “Under Construction” signs, Sobieralski also continues to have conversations with representatives of the Battle Creek Public Schools, Grand Valley State University, Kellogg Community College, Goodwill Industries, and Michigan Works.

“The hospitality industry has a lot of upward mobility and this will give students more exposure to a new career pathway,” Sobieralski says. “There are many facets to the hospitality industry which give students opportunities to learn hard and soft skills and gives them exposure to the business and how it works.”

The renovated hotel will operate as a DoubleTree by Hilton and will be managed by 6PM Hospitality Partners based in Zeeland. The hotel is expected to reopen in late summer 2023 and Sobieralski says he anticipates the creation of 165 operational jobs. He hopes these jobs will be filled by area residents and says a percentage will be set aside for dedicated internship opportunities for students.

The exterior of the Double Tree by night as shown in a design concept.Those who are among the hotel’s inaugural staff will be working in different areas of a 265,000-square foot complex that will feature 239 brand new guest rooms, in addition to a new lobby, ballroom, and meeting spaces. The hotel will occupy 180,000 square feet of the complex. It will have a new restaurant with a farm-to-table menu, a new bar and beer garden, and new kitchen. The hotel’s 16th floor will feature a cocktail lounge with panoramic views of the city, complemented by three meeting spaces that can be configured for one large event.

The 85,000-square-foot McCamly Place, which is separate from the hotel, will be demolished beginning in April 2022. Festival Market Square will not be included in the demolition. 

Plans call for building approximately 19,745 square feet of new space. The new space will include a ticket office for the Kellogg Arena, pre-function/exhibitor space, bathrooms, a new restaurant, and extension of the hotel lobby. It will also add outdoor green space to complement the existing Festival Market Square structure, located in the heart of downtown Battle Creek. 

A video illustrating the proposed plans can be found here.

Sobieralski says the new hotel will be the first teaching hotel of its kind in the region. BCU will be “working closely with our local/regional workforce and educational partners to create meaningful training and career opportunities for local residents and youth,” he says.

The hotel lobby of the Double Tree by day as shown in a design concept.Although discussions about the training and education component are still in the “ideas” phase, those who teach students on a hospitality career track are looking forward to having this additional opportunity to give their students critical hands-on learning opportunities.

“The mission of GVSU and our hospitality program is to try to get as much experiential learning into the curriculum as possible,” says Paul Stansbie, Associate Dean in GVSU’s College Education and Community Innovation and Professor of Hospitality and Tourism. “Successful managers clearly are book smart but they also have applied knowledge to know what the real world looks like when they get out there.”

Students enrolled in the program are able to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Stansbie says internships in the hospitality industry offer students opportunities to get real-world experience before they graduate and enter the hospitality management track. At GVSU, students must have a minimum of 1,000 internship hours before they graduate.

Spending an entire summer doing an internship that exposes them to the inner workings of each department in a hotel -- everything from food and beverage service, to housekeeping, to front desk operations -- gives them a lot of hands-on experience. Those who manage these different areas need to know the inner workings of every department, Stansbie says.

A green space outside the renovated hotel.“We look at ways that we can engage students in that way,” he says.

GVSU already has been partnering with the JW Marriott Hotel in Grand Rapids. The partnership enables students in GVSU’s hospitality management program to be taught on-site by a professor in that program as they get exposure to different departments within that hotel. The school also works with Ottawa Hills High School’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. That program gives students starting in their freshman year the option of taking electives concentrated in hospitality and tourism.

“This is introducing students from the ninth grade on to what the industry looks like and that there’re career paths into it,” Stansbie says. “These students get a solid grounding in the industry that allows them to go on and pursue a career in hospitality or somewhere else. They get into hotels and live, breathe, and touch what the industry really looks like and build resume early on.”

Too often, Stansbie says, the general vision of the hospitality industry is confined to the most visible employees such as housekeeping or front desk staff.

“I tell students to think about their last vacation and who they came into contact with,” he says.

Supply and demand

Much of what’s learned in GVSU’s program can be used in careers outside of a hotel environment. Some are sports management, event planning, or destination marketing and management, Stansbie says.

These career areas were all impacted by the pandemic as workers left, many of whom have not returned. Stansbie says the hospitality industry is beginning to rebound, but not as fast as he and other industry experts and leaders would like to see. Opportunities such as those offered at the new hotel will help to increase the number of people seeking careers in the industry, he says.

Paul Stansbie, Associate Dean in GVSU’s College Education and Community Innovation and Professor of Hospitality and Tourism. “What we’re seeing is a recent phenomenon created by the pandemic in the state of Michigan and elsewhere where one in 10 jobs in the hospitality industry were lost,” he says. “Some people did it as a side hustle and others looked at it and went into other service industries. We lost a tremendous number of career professionals.”

The industry is rebounding and there are ongoing efforts to bring leisure travelers back to Michigan, but, he says, “Hotels can’t sell every room because they don’t have the staff and we’re seeing their growth held back because they don’t have enough bodies to work there. We’re really just trying to see how we can help the industry recover.”
Although KCC does not currently have a program focused on Hospitality Management and Tourism, they have had preliminary conversations with Sobieralski and his team about what a program like that could look like down the road if one is created, says Eric Greene, KCC’s Vice President of Strategy, Relations, and Communications.

“If there is some sort of multi-party partnership where we can provide 100 or 200 level coursework in hospitality, we would be open to that,” Greene says.

KCC already has partnerships in place through its Nursing Program that allow students who take lower-level courses at KCC to transition seamlessly into a four-year school to complete their education.

“We’re very deliberate in the creation of a market analysis,” Greene says. “We have to know that there will be enough students in a program to warrant the expense of creating a program. That work starts with conversations just as we’ve had with the college and BCU. We have done this in other areas where there has been a need for specific jobs that need to be filled where there is already a shortage.”

The drive up canopy at the Double Tree entrance as shown in a design concept.Stansbie says the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality and tourism industry, “made everyone second guess whether this was for them or not. In 2003 we had 150 students in our program and by 2016 that had grown to 600. It grew like crazy as the state invested in the Pure Michigan campaign. We really are in more of a decline stage right now and part of that is because people looked at what happened in industry and people are being hired without a degree into these positions because these jobs need to be filled.”
GVSU is in a recruitment phase and Stansbie says he and his colleagues are trying to show students that that the courses they take in disciplines like accounting, finance, human resources or marketing and strategy are transferable to the business world should that be a career path they’re interested in. He says they also are working to recruit more students of color who may not see this as a viable option.
“One of our biggest challenges is filling the talent pipeline,” Stansbie says. “We want to show that this is a career path, especially for people of color who have been underrepresented. These managers make excellent salaries and they get to move all over the world.”

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.