New Art Musuem Proposed

June 24, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids Art Museum officials feel it’s about time the museum had a home of its own to build around future program needs.

The museum’s Architect Selection Committee has its sights set on what it thinks is the best location — a city-owned parking lot and site of the former Wurzburg Department Store at the corner of Monroe Center and Ottawa Avenue downtown.

Museum officials presented the plan to city commissioners Tuesday and asked them to consider donating the predominantly city-owned site, which would position the art museum in close proximity to Maya Lin’s “Ecliptic,” Rosa Parks Circle and to the new convention center underway.

“We’re asking the City Commission to partner with the art museum on leveraging this investment,” said Sam Cummings, president of the art museum’s board of trustees. He said three privately owned buildings along the northeast side of Monroe Center have been secured on the site.

A local philanthropist, who was not identified by museum officials, donated $20 million toward design and construction of a new museum, and the museum’s board of trustees intends to raise $30 million to $40 million more in private, state and federal funds toward the project.

David Frey, chair of the selection committee, said the museum has been a “houseguest” at several facilities since it was founded in 1910. For the past 20 years it has been housed in the former U.S. Post Office and Federal Court Building at the corner of Pearl and Ionia streets, which it leases from the city for $1 a year.

Frey said the committee retained the services of URS Corp. to evaluate the existing facility and its limitations and the services of Design Plus to look at site assessment criteria.

The studies, funded by a $350,000 grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, revealed that to meet its future needs, the museum should expand from its current 45,000 square feet to 130,000 to 135,000 square feet.

Renovation of the existing museum building was estimated at $43 million to $48 million, while construction of a new building at a new location was estimated at $52 million to $59 million.

Wayne Norlin, principal of Design Plus, said that trying to do the expansion within the existing building would be detrimental to the building’s architectural character and its Historic Register designations.

A total of five potential sites were analyzed, Norlin said, and the one with the most pros and the least cons was the Wurzburg block location.

The site’s draw included its high density, mixed-used setting and its proximity to cultural and entertainment venue, as well as downtown workplaces, restaurants and hotels.

“The other advantages are wonderful frontages on Monroe Center and terrific orientation to the various entry points into downtown,” Norlin said.

“Our recommendation to begin strategizing this site as the location for the new art museum was based on highest and best use for this unique property.”

Ed De Vries, owner of Ed De Vries Properties, told commissioners building the art museum at that site would have a positive effect on adjoining real estate and businesses.

“This is something that’s been exemplified by the Van Andel Arena. All of you know what has happened to the area around the arena and the businesses there,” he added.

Steve Wilson, president of the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing trends in the travel industry and that a recent study indicated that two-thirds of all adult Americans were involved in historical, cultural or arts activity during their most recent trip in the past year.

Last year, Grand Rapids’ visitor attractions saw a 20 percent increase in tourism compared to a 5 percent average increase around the state of Michigan. The Grand Rapids Art Musuem has experienced a 38 percent increase in visitors over last year, Wilson said, but its growth and drawing power is limited by its current facility.

“A new art museum located across the street and within a short walk from the convention center will certainly increase Grand Rapids’ attractiveness as a convention destination,” he told commissioners.

Art Museum Director Celeste Adams said the museum patronage has increased from 40,000 to 50,000 visitors a year to 70,000 to 80,000 visitors a year and that it’s “maxed out.”

She said the museum plans to expand art education opportunities for children in grades K-12 to fill the void created by cutbacks in public school system art programs.

Mayor John Logie said the plan needs to be presented to the community at large. He directed city staff to continue dialogue with art museum officials and come up with one or more recommendations.

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