Outgoing owners say Grand Hotel 'will always be part of our life story'
The storied Grand Hotel is preparing to change hands, but the family that's owned it for decades wants to assure the public that the longtime traditions and charm will remain.
The Musser family announced Tuesday it reached an agreement to sell the property to an affiliate of private equity firm KSL Capital Partners. The family has owned the Mackinac Island getaway since 1979.
"We obviously agonized over it and thought long and hard and prayed," Grand Hotel President Dan Musser III, 55, said in a Wednesday morning interview with The Detroit News.
"It's part of our life. It will always be part of our life story."
Musser did not disclose the terms of the sale but said negotiations had been in the works since springtime and the offer was among several that came in this year. The sale is expected to close within 30 days.
Musser said the family might be handing over the reins but "there's not going to be change" with the hotel, and his relatives will retain their multiple residences on the island, which "will always be our home."
He also will maintain an office at the hotel and serve as chairman for at least three years to help with the transition, he said.
"To a large extent my family's life has been about Grand Hotel," he said. "Our decision to eventually sell was based on the fact that I'm very proud of what we've accomplished and the level of service and amenities and ambiance; all the things that make the Grand Hotel so unique in what we've raised her to."
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Musser said KSL's desire to maintain the current amenities factored heavily into the decision to select the firm for the sale. KSL, he said, intends to invest further into capital projects and services.
Last winter, the hotel completed a 10-suite addition on its fourth floor, a longtime goal of Musser's. Details on what's to come under KSL are still being worked out, he said.
KSL Capital Partners is a private equity firm that specializes in hospitality, recreation, clubs, real estate and travel services. It has offices in Denver, Colorado; Stamford, Connecticut; and London.
Michael Mohapp, a principal of KSL, said in a Tuesday statement that the firm "understands the importance of Grand Hotel to Mackinac Island, the State of Michigan and beyond, as well as its history, charm and traditions."
KSL on Wednesday had no further comment, said spokeswoman Maureen Richardson.
The National Historic Landmark, which sits on Michigan’s historic Mackinac Island and overlooks the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge, is open from early May to late October. The property, in its 133rd season, is known for having the world's longest front porch at 660 feet in length.
Pivot Hotels & Resorts, the lifestyle and luxury division of Davidson Hotels & Resorts, will manage the 397-room, 332,500-square-foot hotel.
Davidson, Musser said, has a "sincere and shared belief" that the strongest asset of the hotel is its team members.
The ownership change isn't expected to result in any staffing reductions. The hotel employs about 715 workers at the peak of its tourist season and drops down to about 60 staffers in the wintertime when the hotel closes.
Many seasonal staff members have been with the hotel for a decade, or two, Musser said.
A series of meetings about the transition were held Tuesday with senior management and will take place with every employee on Wednesday, he said.
Musser's decision to stay on board as chairman, he said, will hopefully comfort and assist staff and long-term returning guests.
The family, over time, has received multiple offers to purchase the hotel. Many, he said, were turned down flat. But after looking into the proposal made earlier this year, Musser said, the family decided it was time.
"More importantly, I think it was the hotel’s time of life," he said. "We brought her to a level we can. I feel strongly and am very excited about the next level that KSL and Pivot can bring to it."
Musser said he's not worried about the transaction with the private equity firm.
Although the future will be out of the family's hands, Musser said "I have faith in this outfit" and "believe it's the right path and best path for Grand Hotel going forward."
Some longtime traditions to be honored by KSL, Musser said, will be the hotel's live music and dress code after 6:30 p.m., a feature that he said makes the hotel unique.
"As my father always said, it doesn't cost a dime to have a guest put a tie on after 6:30, but it changes the feel in the parlor," said Musser, adding his favorite space inside the hotel besides the pool is its dining room.
The island gets about 1 million visitors annually and the hotel sees about 150,000 overnight guests. Musser estimates about a half-million people each year partake in various hotel amenities.
The hotel's operations now include an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, gift shops, outdoor activities, bars, on- and off-premise restaurants and meeting space.
The hotel under new ownership will respect existing reservations, gift certificates and special packages, including Grand Club memberships. Such packages allow guests to purchase up to 25 years of visits over 100 nights at the Grand starting at $50,000.
The Mussers in name have played a role in the hotel's history since 1951 when R.D. Musser joined the staff. But the family is related to W. Stewart Woodfill, who bought the Grand Hotel in 1933. Woodfill is Musser III's great uncle.
In 1960, R.D. Musser became president. He wound up purchasing it 19 years later. Then in 1989, Musser III became president.
Musser said his mother, Amelia, lives on the island in the summer and his sister, Mimi, also has a home there, in addition to a property occupied by Musser, his wife and six children.
He expects he'll now be able to spend more time in Ann Arbor at his other home with his children, four of which are still in school, he said. But they spend summers there and intend to visit often.
"I can't imagine, going forward, a day on Mackinac Island not being in the hotel or one of the restaurants or touching it in some way every day, and we plan to continue that," he said.