CAA Chooses Site For Amphitheater

March 26, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Now that a site in Millennium Park has been selected, Convention and Arena Authority Chairman Steven Heacock said the next step in making an outdoor music amphitheater a reality is to get design packages out to a few select designers in order to determine how much it will cost to build.

Heacock told the Business Journal that he wasn’t sure what the price tag would be, but he hopes it isn’t more than $30 million.

“We’re very, very conscious of the cost,” he said.

But one thing Heacock is certain about is the amphitheater’s location; in a northeast section of the 1,500-acre, county-owned park that lies within the city of Grand Rapids. Three other potential Millennium Park locations, along with one in nearby Johnson Park, were identified in the site selection study Progressive AE conducted for the CAA. SMG, which operates Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place for the CAA, paid for the $50,000 study.

“Millennium Park is proud to have the amphitheater and the amphitheater is proud to be in Millennium Park,” said Rich MacKeigan, regional general manager for SMG and CAA executive director.

Heacock said the selected spot will have the least impact on residents near the park as the sound that will originate from the amphitheater will be buffered by groves of trees and other physical barriers. In addition, the chosen site is the closest to downtown, roughly three miles from Van Andel Arena. It’s also the closest of all the considered sites to the Grand River, meaning amphitheater-goers could arrive by boat.

Heacock said he has spoken with city engineers about extending Wealthy Street westward to the amphitheater’s entrance and making it the main artery to the venue. That new section of Wealthy would go south of Butterworth Avenue and bypass the residences near John Ball Park on the city’s West Side.

Heacock also said that much of the current truck traffic along Butterworth would move to Wealthy once it is extended and help calm overall traffic in that neighborhood. He said when the CAA commissioned the study in 2006 a major concern of the board was that the amphitheater wouldn’t be an inconvenience to residents in the area.

“It was Steve’s idea to look at the extension of Wealthy Street,” said MacKeigan.

As for the amphitheater itself, the plan is to have covered seating for up to 6,000, lawn seating for possibly 7,500 more patrons, maybe some VIP suites and parking for 500 cars. A ticket booth, concession stands, a festival plaza made of bricks, a staging building, a main stage and an auxiliary stage are all part of the construction project, which would be built according to LEED standards. The site itself would undergo remediation.

The venue would be open from May through September and offer about 30 shows over the season, including performances from local nonprofits like the Grand Rapids Symphony and others. MacKeigan said touring artists would make up about half the season’s schedule.

Heacock said he wants the amphitheater to be a “landmark structure” and a “postcard venue” that someone would want to take a photo of, but aesthetics isn’t the only thing he is looking for from the development.

“We want it to be a revenue source for the long term,” he said.

Heacock said Grand Action and Kent County have agreed to help find funding for the construction project. The county has already begun looking to the state for some financial assistance. Heacock said State Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, was serving as the point person in that effort.

The county will lease the amphitheater site to the CAA for a minimal amount, likely $1 a year. MacKeigan said if everything goes smoothly the amphitheater could open for business in three years.

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