Largest Project Crosses Finish Line

January 21, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Crumbs will fall to the carpet within hours after the room's final nail is driven. That is how quickly the much-anticipated new ballroom and banquet hall at DeVos Place will turn into a dining room after four years of being a design on the drawing board.

The third and final leg of the $212 million construction project will end next Monday and dinner will be served for 2,500 in the 40,000-square-foot ballroom next Tuesday.

The following day the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual meeting there, a luncheon that will likely have cheese on the menu and on the stage, as Spencer Johnson, author of "Who Moved My Cheese?" will address the gathering.

But the ballroom — which has a west wall completely made of glass, can be divided into four smaller areas, and is the largest room of its kind in West Michigan — isn't the only portion of the project that will wrap up next week.

The River Overlook Meeting Rooms will be finished too, and will offer more than 7,000 square feet of space. Situated above the ballroom, the area has a boardroom and six meeting rooms that can each hold up to 128 for receptions.

The restoration of the historic Welsh Auditorium façade and lobby will be done and will serve as the entrance to the new ballroom. The old Grand Center will be renovated with a larger kitchen, more meeting rooms, rehearsal halls for the building's performing arts tenants, and offices for the structure's management company SMG.

A new surface will be in on Lyon Street Square and the river promenade will be extended. And the underground parking structure might have all of its 700 spaces open next week, but there is a possibility that 100 of those spots may not open until March.

But best of all, the $51.3 million third phase is on time and under budget. Dale Sommers, who has directed the project for the Convention and Arena Authority, correctly predicted in October 2002 that the third phase would wind up on Jan. 31, 2005. Sommers also told the Business Journal recently that the phase's final construction tab would be a few percentage points below its initial budget.

"It will be under budget," he said.

With the third phase coming in under budget, that means the entire project will cost less than initially estimated. Two years ago, the CAA learned that building DeVos Place would cost less than the original forecast of $219.5 million. Today, that figure is closer to $212 million and whatever is left in the board's contingency fund will revert back to the CAA for use in the operations of the building. In March 2003, that figure was estimated at $840,000.

Sommers said there would be a few minor things that won't get done by next week. One is that the plants designed for the west side of the building won't be planted until spring.

"We will go through punch lists and tidy things up for a month or month-and-a-half and that will be it. All the major pieces will basically be complete, with a minimal amount of site work to do," he said.

John Van Houton of Progressive AE was the design project leader for the third phase. The Erhardt-Hunt Group managed the entire project, which got started in the summer of 2000 with the shifting of Monroe Avenue 30 feet to the east.

DeVos Place offers 1 million square feet of space that includes a 162,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a dozen enclosed loading docks, a 75-foot-high Grand Gallery, and 28,000 square feet of reception space.    

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