Amway Grand Plaza hotel
Photo courtesy of Amway Grand
Photo courtesy of Amway Grand

The Hotel That Multilevel Marketing Built

However you feel about the Amway Corporation, it’s responsible for saving this historic Grand Rapids hotel.

Whether it's a cabana on a private Caribbean island or a room in a medieval Irish castle, sometimes where we stay is even more important than where we go. Late Checkout is your key to the most memorable lodgings around the world.

Step into the Pantlind Lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza for the first time and you’re sure to let out a dramatic sigh. It’s nearly impossible not to. A soaring gilt ceiling—the largest gold leaf installation in the country—dazzles under the light of three massive Czechslovokian crystal chandeliers weighing 4,000 pounds each. Intricate plasterwork, a copper fountain, art deco touches, and a wooden gilded sunburst that originally graced the ballroom of the Palazzo Moroscini for over a century all add to the absolutely overstated opulence of one of the most ornate hotel lobbies in the United States.

This showstopping example of historic architecture is somewhat surprisingly located in the midwestern city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Originally built in 1913 as the Pantlind Hotel, the building was named as one of the 10 finest hotels in America in 1925. During the heyday of the logging industry, the hotel—and the city—thrived. With the decline of industry throughout the Rust Belt during the second half of the 20th century, the hotel lost its patina and many rooms sat empty each evening. Residents of Grand Rapids flocked to the suburbs, and downtown began to resemble more of a ghost town than a hub of innovation and business.

Amway Grand hotel
Photo courtesy of Amway Grand

In 1979, an unlikely benefactor stepped in to restore the Pantlind Hotel: the Amway Corporation. Owned by two wealthy Grand Rapids clans, the De Vos and Van Andel families, Amway has a storied and complicated history in the US. The multilevel marketing corporation has risen and fallen in popularity through the decades, as the business model has been heavily critiqued in recent years. During its heyday, though, Amway parties were the place to be. Distributors for the billion-dollar company used social selling, often in the form of house parties, to attract customers and recruit more distributors. Amway continues to thrive today, with hundreds of thousands of distributors worldwide, but it got its start in Grand Rapids.

With the purchase of the Pantlind Hotel, the Amway Corporation made a decision to invest heavily in its local community. While locals have diverse and varied opinions about Amway as a company, most agree on one point—that its investment saved downtown. “That acquisition, right then and there, has been attributed to be the spark that started the resurgence of downtown Grand Rapids,” says Ross Bartlett, general manager of the hotel. He’s been at the Amway Grand for eight years and has been general manager for three, coming from Arizona Biltmore to invest his skills into this small midwestern city.

Following the acquisition of the hotel by an Amway Corporation subsidiary called AHC Hospitality, Bartlett says the historic Pantlind underwent significant changes. Renovations began on every corner of the property, and a massive glass tower that added 277 rooms to the hotel was erected along the riverfront. The tower also contains a spa, indoor pool, and rooftop pickleball courts.

Amway Grand Plaza hotel
Amway Grand Plaza

In 2015, AHC Hospitality made the decision to join Hilton’s Curio Collection. “What that means is that we are part of this distinguished group of authentic, true to their locality, historically independent hotels,” says Bartlett. Partnering with Hilton allowed the Amway Grand Plaza to drive further awareness of Grand Rapids while also accessing features like Hilton’s reservation and reward system for guests. “It's been a really great partnership for us.”

With single rooms beginning around $375, there’s a range of options in both the historic portion of the hotel and the glass tower. When I visited, I stayed in a king suite overlooking the Grand River near the top of the tower, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a panoramic view of the city. The entire tower was remodeled beginning in 2020, which included replacing 6,600 panes of glass and adding 180 tons of reinforcing steel. The project cost a cool $40 million, but this significant investment had a huge impact. The finishes in every room are both high end and understated, letting the unique features of each wing of the hotel shine through.

MDRD restaurant
Photo courtesy of Amway Grand

At the angled top of the 29-story tower sits MDRD, a Spanish tapas restaurant headed by executive chef Erika Brigham. A tiered floor plan means every table has a view. Overall, there are nine dining establishments located within the Amway Grand, including familiar chains like Starbucks and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, as well as unique ventures such as MDRD and Rendezvous. An Instagrammable speakeasy, IDC, and a sports bar with duckpin bowling called Woodrow’s sit firmly outside the box when it comes to hotel dining. The property is also connected via glass elevated sidewalks to the neighboring JW Marriott—also owned by AHC Hospitality—for more dining options.

A riverwalk and bridges with wide pedestrian walkways run along the front of both hotels. This riverfront area bustles into the late evening with bikers, fly fisherman, and couples out for a stroll. A planned renovation to the riverfront’s Lyon Square, just outside of the hotel, will bring in an outdoor music and wedding venue and revitalize the area.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel
Amway Grand Plaza

This is all part of a $55 million investment by the city to rehab the river, remove dams, and create more space for recreation, a recent step in an ongoing effort to keep Grand Rapids grand. When I walked along the river on a warm fall evening during the city’s annual ArtPrize competition, nothing about downtown Grand Rapids felt dead or outdated. The shuttered storefronts and decaying infrastructure that enticed Amway to invest in the city are nearly impossible to imagine today.

Bartlett says that for him, his favorite thing about working for the Amway Grand Plaza is the reaction he sees from visitors, be they travelers or locals stopping in for an iconic selfie. “There’s always a moment… people who’ve never seen it before or people who come back, they are constantly taking pictures because of its allure,” he says. “It’s one of the most iconic hotel lobbies in the country, in my opinion.”

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Meg St-Esprit (she/her) is a freelance writer chasing down and covering the most interesting and quirky ideas about parenting, home design, education, and travel. She lives with her husband, four kids and way too many pets in Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Romper, Fodor's, and more. Meg studied counseling and human development during her higher education journey, and applies that knowledge and expertise to her writing as well. When she's not writing, she's definitely camping.