Planners OK Grand Center Expansion

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Planning commissioners approved the $219.5 million Grand Center expansion project recently, which includes demolishing the Hall of Justice, the building's parking ramp and a portion of Welsh Auditorium.

Erhardt-Hunt, the project's construction manager, hopes to begin demolition of the parking ramp next month. Razing the Hall of Justice won't be done until next fall, when the police and courts are in their new locations.

But commissioners attached a condition to tearing the ramp down. Before that work can begin, a plan has to be developed to protect pedestrians along Monroe Avenue during the construction period. Recently, a pedestrian leaving an event was struck by a car while crossing the street. The plan has to be approved by the city's Traffic Safety and Planning departments before the ramp can close, a closing that is tentatively set for April 9.

"In a sense, what they've done is asked for a pedestrian safety crossing before demolition of the building can proceed. So I will be meeting with Pat Bush, traffic safety director, to work something out," said Planning Director Bill Hoyt.

Approval from the Planning Commission is needed to demolish any building in the downtown district. Commissioners are required to base their decision on whether the new use for the site is better than the current one. The city's Historic Preservation Commission previously approved the razing plan and the plan to restore the Welsh Auditorium lobby.

Planning commissioners also gave the project four variances from the downtown planning ordinance. Commissioners allowed:

  • The northwest end of the building to be 14 feet from the Grand River. The downtown zoning ordinance requires a 25-foot setback from the riverbank.
  • Less than the required transparency on the building's façade along Monroe Avenue. The ordinance calls for a façade on Monroe to have 60-percent transparency. In contrast, the Grand Gallery has been designed with 51 percent and the exhibit hall has 30 percent. The current Grand Center doesn't have windows on its façade. The ordinance also required the building's north side along Bridge Street to have 40 percent transparency, but that is where the loading docks will be located.
  • An awning to be extended to within two feet of the curb along Monroe. The area will be used as a shuttle stop for those attending events at the building, and the awning will provide passengers with protection from the weather.
  • Fewer trees in the streetscape plan.

The project is a mix of new construction and renovation. The entire convention complex will be 1,000 feet long, or the length of 3 1/3 football fields. The exhibit space will be 360 feet wide by 450 feet long, divided into three 150-foot-long tracks. The main exhibit hall will be 160,000 square feet, a banquet hall will have 40,000 square feet and a dozen loading docks will be built at the north end.

"The (design) process started over three years ago with the input of hundreds and hundreds of people," said Brian Craig, senior vice president of Progressive AE, the local architectural firm that is co-designing the project with Ellerbe Beckett of Minneapolis.

"We've done everything we can to enhance this building from every side, including the top," added Craig.

"There is no back to this building, all sides are important," said Bob Daverman, the lead designer of the project for Progressive AE.

A public hearing on the demolition and the variances was to have been held on Feb. 22 and commissioners could have given their approval for the project to move ahead then. But a mistake in the hearing's public notice forced the commission to reschedule it. Instead of the notice advising that the hearing would be held on Feb. 22, it listed the date as March 22.

As a result, the hearing was re-noticed and rescheduled for March 8.

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