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Grand Rapids envisions theater nearly the size of Pine Knob — right downtown

Home to an arena, convention center and several smaller concert venues, Grand Rapids has no shortage of entertainment options, but city leaders say a proposal for a $116 million outdoor amphitheater that would sit on the banks of the Grand River on prime downtown real estate is expected to spur $474 million in economic impact over the next 30 years.

The 12,000-seat amphitheater would be located at the southwest edge of downtown Grand Rapids and a short walk from many of the city’s entertainment destinations like Van Andel Arena and Founder’s Brewing Co. The amphitheater would be slightly smaller than the 15,000-seat Pine Knob Music Theatre in Independence Township.

The project is not etched in stone just yet, but it took a step forward when the Grand Rapids City Commission approved a proposal by the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority to purchase about 12 acres to build the structure at 201 Market Ave. SW, a site that currently houses the city’s public works operations.

It is an unusually large project for a growing midwestern city, said Rich MacKeigan, executive director of the Convention/Arena Authority, because it is difficult to find that much land in the middle of a downtown that is growing, especially given the adjacency of the project to the Grand River.

“This is truly so much bigger than the amphitheater. Community leaders and stakeholders in Grand Rapids view the amphitheater as the first domino to fall towards something that will become one of the most transformative things to occur in any Midwest city in the last 40 years,” he said.

An economic impact study presented to the city shows the amphitheater is expected to create more than 400 jobs and generate $7 million in annual wages.

The amphitheater is just one piece of a much larger 31-acre development plan. The land stretches from Fulton Street on the north to Wealthy Street on the south. Other phases of the project are expected to include 1,750 apartments, an adventure park with a zipline, kayak launch sites, restaurants and retail.

MacKeigan said the hope is that the amphitheater project will unlock the rest of the property for further development.

The larger parcel includes the industrial site owned by the city of Grand Rapids, a 500-space parking lot owned by the Amway Hotel Corp., and the former Charley’s Crab restaurant owned by a limited liability company connected to the DeVos family, the founders of Amway.

The vision for the site is designed to complement efforts by Grand Rapids Whitewater to restore the rapids in the Grand River downtown. Longer term recommendations for the area include more housing, a soccer venue or an aquarium.

“The proposed amphitheater is an exciting opportunity for our community that has the potential of transforming 31 acres of riverfront property in the heart of our downtown,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “The amphitheater project is the centerpiece and catalyst for the overall redevelopment that could result in over 1,700 residential units, ground-floor retail space, parks, greenspace and a riverfront trail. This project will not only enhance our tourism industry and bring more visitors to our city, but will also support local and minority owned businesses. It will add significant vibrancy to what is currently an underutilized and industrial area of our city.”

To move forward, the Convention/Arena Authority must secure the $116 million, which includes a request to the state for $30 million. The amphitheater project is ambitious and could take a decade to fully complete, but the authority has a track record of success with other public/private projects. The CAA is the public authority that owns Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall. It’s been discussing the idea of creating an amphitheater in Grand Rapids for about 15 years, MacKeigan said.

The business groups backing the plan said now is the time to move forward.

“As we came out of COVID, there was a renewed awareness that the live entertainment spaces would be coming back aggressively in a very positive way, especially outdoors,” he said. “That dovetailed with the city of Grand Rapids having a parcel of land … that they’ve been looking to get developed for years.”

The 201 Market Ave. property that would be home to the amphitheater has been the subject of real estate development rumors in the city for years. It was once touted as the site of what became known as the “Mystery Project” after Atlanta developer Duane Faust pitched a plan for a multimillion-dollar development in 2006. It was dubbed the Mystery Project mainly because no one at City Hall was discussing details, like the viability of the plan and taxpayer risk if the property sale was approved. The project fizzled, though Faust returned to Grand Rapids in 2010 with his idea for “River Grand,” a scaled-down plan that was to be financed through a federal Build America program. That plan was scrapped after the city found the finances would not work.

This plan is different, MacKeigan said. He believes it will come together this time.

“There’s still a lot of work that has to happen, an awful lot of work. But it has been the nature of this community to do the hard work and get the good things done. I can point to the two assets that I’ve got oversight of: the arena and DeVos Place. Both of those were major community initiatives and the community got them done,” he said.

The CAA has worked closely on major downtown development projects with Grand Action, which was formed by a group of Grand Rapids business leaders decades ago to create the convention center and arena. It is also backing the amphitheater project through its latest iteration, Grand Action 2.0.

Important utility work on the amphitheater project has already begun. The city, the CAA, Amway Hotel Corp. and a company connected to the DeVos family have contributed to an $18.6 million project that is relocating a sewer that runs through the properties being considered for redevelopment. The sewer must be moved for any construction to take place at the site.

“From our perspective, without hesitation, we think that the Grand Rapids’ riverfront renaissance is one of the greatest downtown projects happening in the country,” John Shreve, senior urban planner at Populous, said when the plan was initially introduced to the city. Populous is the Kansas City-based architecture firm hired by Grand Action to create a conceptual vision for the site.

The amphitheater project is being designed through a partnership between Grand Rapids-based Progressive AE and Detroit-based Rossetti. Rossetti designed The Palace of Auburn Hills and Van Andel Arena.

The Grand Rapids region learned it would be losing some event space when the DeltaPlex Arena & Conference Center in nearby Walker announced it would close in July, according to WOOD-TV. The arena, which could hold up to 7,000 spectators for concerts, was built in 1952.


Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on April 29, 2022.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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