By Kaitlyn Campbell
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has provided a toolkit for cities to “help shape the future of their communities by building strong foundations of planning, zoning and economic development practices.”
The kit, which was developed by experts, encourages communities to “proactively plan, engage stakeholders, and become more attractive to developers,’ with the goal of becoming a place where people want to live, work and invest. These are called Redevelopment Ready Communities, and Harrison is now one of these communities as they work on adding a new hotel for the community through their new project.
Justin Cavanaugh, the City of Harrison manager and clerk, actively collaborates with many entities in the city to bring economic development to the area. He says that plans for the hotel development date back to before he began working in his current position.
“Around 2001, the prior city manager, Tracey Connelly, was meeting with the Middle Michigan Development Corporation, and talking about things they’d like to see come to Harrison,” Cavanaugh told Sarah Spohn of Second Wave Media for their Rural Innovation Exchange stories. “It was brought up that a hotel has always been on the wish list, and how it would definitely spur economic growth. The Michigan Municipal League brought in a hotel market expert, who conducted a feasibility study with funds from MEDC Predevelopment Assistance. This market study received overwhelming responses to the local survey and culminated with nearly 50 city residents at the public forum.”
The Hotel Feasibility Study that the city completed in July of 2022 showed that Harrison could support at least a 49-room hotel. But Cavanaugh says that the recent struggles has been trying to find an investor to help make this hotel plan a reality.
Harrison was connected with someone with a regional hotel chain through the hotel study consultant.
“We met with Janice from Cobblestone Hotels, based out of Wisconsin,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re looking to expand their franchise and are a hotel that focuses on rural communities and bringing a luxury hotel to a community that generally would only have a 10-room mom-and-pop option.”
After having a few investor meetings, Cavanaugh said that the city has about half of the $2 million needed to begin the project.
“Right now, we’re essentially just looking for investors to try to get this project going,” he said. “If we can get a group of investors and get everything going, we’re hoping to start building by spring of 2025. The hotel project could be built over the course of the summer, and potentially be open by 2026.”
Cavanaugh appreciates the ‘hotel in a box’ method that Cobblestone Hotels has, which uses their in-house management and building companies. He also likes that the company can personalize specific things according to feedback and community needs in the area.
“When they’re building a hotel, you know exactly what it’s going to look like,” he says. “I like that because it creates that brand, but I also like that they listen to their franchisees. They’ve changed some of their models after getting feedback after some of the franchisees. For example, the franchisees wanted to have a fireplace in the lobby, and now that’s a standard because it was very well received.”
Cavanaugh is hoping that the hotel can provide a place to stay for people that come to some of the events in the city, like the Old 27 Motor Tour. Visitors typically have to stay in hotels nearby in Clare and Houghton Lake.
“If people were staying here, it would help spur the local economy. Instead, they’re going to the next town, eating at their restaurants, shopping at their stores and getting their gasoline there instead of in our town,” Cavanaugh said. “If we were able to keep people here, they’d be spending their money here.”
At the end of the day, Cavanaugh hopes that the development of the hotel can exemplify the city’s motto and enable growth while keeping true to its roots.
“Harrison has this saying, ‘Come for the day, we think you’ll stay,’ which is great when we actually have places for you to stay,” he says. “In our economy now, we barely even have enough housing. Being able to keep people here, and giving people a reason to come here and spend time and money here, would have an overall significant boost to our local economy and town. It would allow us to grow a little bit, but at the same time, still keep those hometown values that everyone comes here for.”