Student Housing: Edison Inn gets new owner; county to build convention center

By JULIANNE MATTERA for Times Herald

The Thomas Edison Inn — and surrounding property in Port Huron — is getting an upgrade.

Officials and developers gathered at the inn at 4 p.m. Thursday to announce several areas of development on 15.5 acres off Thomas Edison Parkway.

The project, which will be done in two phases, is estimated to cost about $27.8 million.

The Thomas Edison Inn will be renovated into a Hilton Garden Inn and a new 40,000-square-foot convention center will be adjoined to it. The inside of the inn’s restaurant will be completely redone to become a Twisted Rooster restaurant.

A Baker College facility to house a new culinary arts program also will be built during the first phase of the project. Student housing is expected to be built near the culinary institute during the project’s second phase.

“It’s going to mean hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to our community,” said Bruce Brown, Port Huron city manager.

The project will be paid for with public and private funds, Brown said.

Bill Kauffman, administrator for St. Clair County, said the county is expected to issue 30-year bonds in the amount of $9 million to build the convention center, to purchase land at the site and to purchase 11,000 square feet of meeting space at the inn. He said the bonds would be reimbursed with revenue from the convention facility, a financial commitment from the city of Port Huron and funding from the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The city will contribute revenues generated from the inn’s tax increment finance district, Brown said. The district generates about $85,000 to $125,000 annually.

Brown said he and Kauffman began talking about the project with developers from JB Real Estate Development and John Weiss, president and chief
executive officer of Design Plus in Grand Rapids, in May.

Floor-by-floor renovations to the inn are expected to start after Jan. 1, 2012, said John Wheeler, partner in JB Real Estate Development and Orion Construction, also in Grand Rapids. Hotel and restaurant renovations will be complete by July 2012 and the convention center will be complete by May 2013, Wheeler said. The Baker College facility will be finished by November 2012.

Marci Fogal, president of the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the hotel renovations and new convention center will allow the area to draw in larger conferences. Fogal estimated a conference with 500 attendees staying for two nights would generate $336,000 in the area.

Brown said the project could enhance the future of McMorran Place, but the downtown Port Huron facility will not become a convention center.

He said if McMorran ever is significantly restored, it would complement the planned hotel and convention center.

“McMorann is a different kind of a facility than a convention facility. They attract different groups. They attract different venues,” Brown said.

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