Hope remains strong at the H Hotel

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Hotel H has weathered storms and has undergone changes over the decades, but the past year presented a unique set of challenges.

The hotel was hit hard in dining, business and leisure areas as the pandemic unfolded, and the flooding that followed the dam ruptures in May caused extensive damage. However, the hotel management is looking forward to a full recovery and a better future.

A rich history

Originally named Ashman Court, this hotel and conference center has been a Midland staple for almost 30 years. Construction began in early 1992 on the site of the old downtown JC Penney store and the building opened in June 1993. The $ 22 million development included 144 rooms, a 90-car parking lot, a restaurant and lounge.

In 2006, the management of the hotel was transferred from Marriott to Dolce International. The following year, the hotel and conference center underwent a $ 25 million renovation and expansion project, including its rebranding as H Hotel.

Hotel H contracted Three Rivers Corporation in December 2019 to renovate the courtyard. Three Rivers resolved the infrastructure issues and replaced the original masonry. Their progress was slightly delayed during the pandemic, but the project was completed in June 2020.

“They had finished the yard work for us. As the yard work was wrapped up, the flooding came, ”said Derek Grimaldi, General Manager of the H.

Come hell or high water

When the Edenville and Sanford dams failed in May 2020, causing flooding in Midland and Gladwin counties, the Tittabawassee River peaked at just over 35 feet, up from 32.15 feet during the flooding of June 2017. Grimaldi said that although past flooding reached the hotel’s lower parking lot and the covered doorway on Ann Street, the 2020 flooding caused 10 inches to penetrate the entire main floor. The main hall, administrative offices, fitness center and swimming pool were severely damaged; Fortunately, no room is on this floor.

The main hall was temporarily moved to the upper floor while Three Rivers led the restoration process. The hotel’s saltwater pool has been drained and cleaned. All the walls on the lower level have been renovated and repainted. In less than six months, visitors were welcomed back to the main lobby, and on November 24, the pool and fitness center reopened to guests and the 150-200 members of the local club.

“Being able to put the pieces together took a bit of time,” said Grimaldi. “With the exception of (the) fitness center, it had minimal impact on the guest experience as everything else was functional.”

Running the business

Activity over the past year has been mixed for Hotel H. On the one hand, the pandemic has hampered travel plans – both for business and leisure. Grimaldi didn’t have exact numbers, but estimated the hotel’s occupancy rate in 2020 to be about half that of a normal year. When it comes to special events, state health regulations offered very few opportunities earlier in the year to host large gatherings. However, Hotel H was able to host two courtyard weddings in the summer.

“Most people weren’t completely comfortable organizing events. In summer and early fall the restrictions were relaxed a bit, which provided more opportunities, ”said Grimaldi. “The hospitality industry is one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. “

Hotel H saw a bright spot with the opening of its new restaurant, ONe Eighteen, on January 25, 2020. Diners continued to frequent downtown restaurants which were able to offer outdoor dining options . For ONe Eighteen, guests were able to eat al fresco in the newly renovated courtyard.

“We are very happy with the way it turned out, not only for ourselves, but also with the way the community reacted during the sunny months,” said Grimaldi.

Hotel H continued to use its kitchens even when restaurants were closed due to the pandemic. For eight weeks, Hotel H provided 700 meals a week to families in need. After the flood, he partnered with Midland’s Open Door and other local organizations to donate meals to volunteers and cleanup crews. Now that restaurants are allowed to reopen up to 25% of their indoor dining capacity, the Oxygen Lounge space is being used as an overflow space for Café Zinc.

“At the moment it’s a challenge to keep people at work as much as we would like, but we are optimistic that we are going in the right direction,” said Grimaldi.

Small but powerful staff

Despite the slow pace of business and the restoration of the floods, the staff at the H hotel took care of both the building and the community. Of the 220 associates employed by the H Hotel before the pandemic, 140 remain, although Grimaldi hopes to increase the size of the staff when business fully resumes. In addition to the regular work of operating the hotel and restaurants, employees have assisted relief communities and responded to community needs, although some of them have been personally affected by the flooding. Grimaldi couldn’t be prouder of their continued efforts.

“Between the flooding, the pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the state, our team members have stepped up and done a tremendous job,” he said.

Grimaldi does not foresee a full recovery in 2021, but is hopeful that the latter part of the year will show a movement of renewal. He said that as COVID-19 vaccines are distributed, consumer confidence will increase, bolstered by the ability to travel and congregate in larger groups.

“I hope we can start to see a return to normal activity levels as quickly as it is safe to do so. We can build on the successes we have had, ”said Grimaldi.

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