|By John Gallagher, Detroit Free
PressMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 23, 2009 --It took years of struggle to get the old Book Cadillac Hotel ready for its grand reopening a year ago this month. Then the really hard part started.
Detroit's historic downtown hotel celebrates the first anniversary of its reopening today with a small ceremony at the hotel. What perhaps no one foresaw as the hotel neared its reopening last October was how deep an economic slump awaited the new 455-room Westin Book Cadillac and another historic hotel, the 203-room Doubletree Fort Shelby, which opened two months later.
Both hotels had been shuttered for many years before innovative financing deals enabled them to reopen after complete renovations. But the market since then has been hurt by the slump in auto sales, the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, and the slowdown in business travel.
Scott Stinebaugh, head of marketing for the hotel, said the Westin Book Cadillac has done well with weddings and other special events but has suffered along with everyone else in the recession.
"We're outperforming the market, but that's relative to a market that's down 20% year to date," he said this week.
Bill Aprill, head of marketing for the Doubletree Fort Shelby, echoed that.
"The economy is the challenge," he said this week. "Business levels in Detroit are soft."
Both hotels are meeting or beating the downtown average of about 50% average occupancy rates. But in a better economy, they might be doing several percentage points better.
Despite the struggles, both hotels have been welcome additions to the downtown hotel scene, said Michael O'Callaghan, executive vice president of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"The first thing it does is increase the numbers of rooms we can make available for conventions," O'Callaghan said this week.
"The second thing is there's a new vitality along that portion of downtown Detroit," he added. "Those two hotels have contributed to the downtown area having significant life at night. I think they've been great additions to the city."
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