Not Quite So Fast

August 29, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although the Convention and Arena Authority added the $450,000 Van Andel Arena concourse expansion project to its capital improvements list for this fiscal year, the building’s manager wants to look at other options before committing to the work.

SMG Assistant General Manager Jim Watt proposed taking a long and hard look at the arena’s public circulation routes before extending the northwest corridor of the second-floor concourse.

He told members of the CAA Operations Committee that a consultant should be brought in to help his staff develop alternatives as to how the congestion in that corner of the arena could be alleviated, instead of just going forward with the build-out.

“So we will look at other things before we go gung-ho on the expansion,” said Watt.

One concern committee members have about the expansion is that it could change the overall aesthetics of the arena, which has not only proved to be a fiscally successful building but also an architecturally successful one.

Operations Committee member Robert Mihos said whomever SMG hires as a consultant for a circulation-pattern study should have some engineering expertise in addition to a design background.

“I think looking at the entire circulation is a very good idea,” said Mihos, director of facilities management for Kent County.

“My hope is whoever is selected will be able to go the next step,” said Watt.

Watt said he already has studied entrance patterns into the arena and plans to share that information with the consultant selected for the circulation study.

The northwest corner of the concourse is just north of the skywalk entrance into the arena. A mobile concessions cart, a merchandise stand and a women’s restroom are all in that corner of the mezzanine, which becomes congested when crowds reach 8,000 and is nearly impassible at sold-out events.

SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan said crowds of 10,000 and more fill the arena between 40 and 50 times each fiscal year. The concessions cart in that corner is removed from the concourse when traffic gets that heavy, a move that results in lower food and beverage sales at those events.

The expansion project would add about 2,000 square feet to that corner by pushing the concourse north and out to the front window wall at the arena’s main entrance off Fulton Street. SMG estimated the work would cost $450,000.

“We have two-way traffic going there,” said Watt. “It gets very congested. That corner gets more congested than the east side of the building.”

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