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Published in Economic Development
From left: Tom Welch, Carol Van Andel and Dick DeVos From left: Tom Welch, Carol Van Andel and Dick DeVos COURTESY PHOTO

Grand Action 2.0 says now is the time to plan major developments in Grand Rapids

BY Monday, November 23, 2020 04:38pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Planning now for the future development of an outdoor amphitheater, soccer stadium and expansion of the DeVos Place convention center positions Grand Rapids to proceed once the COVID-19 pandemic eventually ends.

Grand Action 2.0 — the group of business leaders that championed several large community projects over more than two decades and reconvened earlier this year — has been studying the feasibility of each of the projects. 

The ongoing analyses will enable the group to prioritize how to proceed after the pandemic wanes and the economy recovers, officials said Monday.

Grand Action 2.0 began discussing new projects — first identified in a 2016 study — shortly after reconvening early this year. The group commissioned Convention, Sports & Leisure International in Minneapolis, Minn., for a follow-up study.

“Our mission to foster public-private collaborations on transformational projects that benefit health, science, the arts, education, economic vitality and the residents of the region became more relevant when the pandemic hit,” Grand Action 2.0 Co-Chair Carol Van Andel said today during a presentation to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. 

“Our community’s economic recovery will be dependent in large part on the public and private sectors’ readiness to initiate new economic development activities that stimulate growth, investment and employment,” Van Andel said. “We knew our region had to be prepared to hit the ground running when the health crisis subsides. Unless we plan now, we know it will be much more difficult to recover from the devastating impacts on our local economy, our businesses, our workers and residents.”

Grand Action envisions the development over the next decade or more of an outdoor amphitheater on city-owned property at 201 Market Ave. SW, a soccer and entertainment stadium that would host minor league professional soccer and other events, and future DeVos Place expansion that include a hotel.

CSL International has met with dozens of stakeholders for a “real deep dive into the community and the potential customers for each of these venues, so when we start talking about projects and futures it’s built on a solid foundation of research,” said CSL International Principal John Kaatz.

Grand Rapids “seems to be well-suited from the demand perspective” for a riverfront amphitheater on the 201 Market property that could host 40 or more events annually and draw more than 260,000 people, Kaatz said.

An amphitheater could become a “signature attraction” for downtown that becomes “a community gathering space, 365 days a year” with sledding and skating in the winter, he said.

“The idea is we create a year-around activity zone that happens to have an amphitheater in the middle of it that allows us to do those 40-plus events a year, in addition to various community events,” Katz said. “If we can achieve that, which we think we can, that creates a tremendous amount of vibrancy.”

An amphitheater with a capacity for about 12,000 people would not compete with Van Andel Arena for concerts. Concert tours for amphitheaters “tend to be somewhat distinct,” Kaatz said.

“There’s an outdoor tour that exists throughout the year. They tend not to go to arenas, so the overlap between Van Andel and a new amphitheater, we think, is fairly limited,” he said.

The amphitheater also could spur peripheral development along both sides of the Grand River, Kaatz said. He spoke of the potential for a nearby aquarium, for example, as well as public spaces, picnic areas and “other commercial opportunities” such as office, retail and housing around 201 Market and a site at Market Avenue and Fulton Street.

“This signature attraction concept could also be part of the overall waterfront development given the amount of space we have,” Kaatz said.

Soccer, convention plans

Once an ownership structure is formed around a soccer stadium, Grand Rapids has the demographics and ability to attract a minor league franchise, Katz said. A soccer stadium in Grand Rapids funded with a public-private sector partnership model would probably have roughly 7,000 seats with accompanying skyboxes and luxury suites, he said.

The stadium could also host college and high school games, plus community events such as art and collector shows and corporate gatherings, he said.

At DeVos Place, the focus over the next five years should involve identifying new meeting space, then looking at expansion and a new 300- to 500-room adjacent hotel in five to 10 years.

Grand Action 2.0 for now is “very much in the information-gathering stage” on the project, Co-Chair Dick DeVos said.

Whether each of the projects proceeds beyond concept will require the same kind of public-private partnerships to finance, Grand Action 2.0 Co-Chair Tom Welch said. 

Of the $420 million in projects the first iteration of Grand Action undertook, $130 million came through private philanthropy, Welch said.

“The original model used for Grand Action 1.0 is exactly the way we’re going to move forward,” said Welch, the regional president for Fifth Third Bank. “We plan to continue to galvanize the public support and work with public and private parties to identify viable funding sources.”

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