Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel reopens Esther Williams Pool, grounds after $10M renovation

Greg Tasker
Special to The Detroit News

Mackinac Island -- The Grand Hotel officially opened its revamped Esther Williams Pool and grounds Thursday evening with a ribbon-tying ceremony, symbolically connecting the iconic resort’s past with the present and the future.

    The 220-foot-long pool, which opened a century ago, underwent a $10 million makeover that included the creation of a family-friendly area with a zero-depth beach entry, a water jet play area and water slide. The grounds were expanded to accommodate more guests and new pool furniture for the deck, terrace and lawn was added. And, for the first time, guests can reserve cabanas that also offer food and beverage service.

The Grand Hotel officially opens its renovated Esther Williams Pool and grounds Thursday.

“Grand Hotel’s Esther Williams pool has been a major draw since it was built,” said Tim Hygh, executive director of Mackinac Island Tourism, who was one of many island dignitaries on hand for the champagne-toasting event. “These new renovations and additions ensure the pool remains an island ‘must do’ for generations to come. They are spectacular.”

Also added was an adults-only infinity pool, with panoramic views of the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. Aesthetic improvements included creating windows along a wall that runs the perimeter of the pool to allow water views for guests around the original pool, which sits just above the island shoreline.

 The upgraded pool and grounds offer a more modern experience for guests, and improvements enhance  the original Esther Williams Pool, said Doug Dean, executive vice president of operations at the Grand Hotel. The pool is named after the 1940s movie star and competitive swimmer who filmed a movie at the pool.

An adults-only infinity pool, with panoramic views of the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge, is seen.

    The renovation marks the first construction project since the Grand Hotel changed ownership in 2019. KSL Capital Partners, LLC purchased the hotel from the Musser family, long-time owners of the property. The Denver-based private equity firm focuses on travel and leisure companies. Davidson Resorts is operating the Grand.

    Dan Musser III, the former hotel president who remains its chairman, applauded KSL for completing the pool renovation, a project his family had long considered. With a property as old as the Grand, which opened in 1887, there are always costly projects to be done, he said.

     “This is always one of our happiest experiences, spending a day at the Grand Hotel pool,” Musser said, adding his two daughters had splashed around in the pool the day before.

    Besides the pool rehab, the project included the construction of a full kitchen and new bar, making it easier to deliver food and drinks to lounging guests. The pool house also was expanded, and the fitness center was enlarged and upgraded with new equipment. The bathhouse was also revamped to add upscale changing rooms, lockers and showers. 

A water slide is one of many attractions at the Grand Hotel.

Gene Hopkins and Tamara Burns of the Hopkins/Burns Design Studio, the same firm the hotel has used for 20 years, were tapped for the pool and ground renovations.

Alan and Allison Sehoyan, long-time island residents, gave the new pool a thumbs-up. The Grand and the pool are an integral part of the island, they said, and the family has fond memories of their children swimming at the Grand and taking swimming lessons over the years.

“I think it looks fantastic,” said Allison Sehoyan, who is a marketing assistant for Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. “I think they’ve done a great job. I love how they’ve brought the old and the new all together.”