A million dollar idea to jazz up walkway

May 23, 2009
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Imagine playing virtual volleyball on a Grand Haven beach in the enclosed skywalk that runs from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to the entrance of DeVos Place.

Or imagine watching your shadow build a snowman on a prominent site in Grand Rapids while standing in that same skywalk.

Then imagine that the Convention and Arena Authority can find the revenue to turn these and other virtual experiences into reality.

“I think we’re looking at $1 million for three sections,” said Rich MacKeigan, CAA executive director.

Members of the CAA Operations Committee participated last week in a demonstration of the multi-sensory experiences nodes they are considering adding to portions of the skywalk to give visitors to the convention center a memorable impression of the city.

“If they’re coming in for a convention, we want them to come back. Or if they’re coming in for a (site) visit, we want them to come back,” said MacKeigan.

PlayMotion Inc., based in an Atlanta suburb, gave the demonstration that included a half-dozen virtual applications.

The firm’s Tony Cowan told the committee the applications can be a revenue source for the CAA, as well as a memorable experience for visitors. He said PlayMotion recently did virtual projects for Red Bull and Nike, with the latter marking the  launch of its new soccer line.

“It can be combined with digital media,” said Cowan. “These are real opportunities for branding and sponsors.”

Cowan said PlayMotion built and developed the virtual system and its high cost would keep it from being mass-produced. An exact price depends on how many applications a customer selects. There are dozens to choose from across multiple categories that can produce sight, sound and smell sensations.

“The shock and awe should last for quite a while. It’s going to have a pretty long shelf life,” he said.

The CAA is looking at a system that would project images on a wall and the floor in up to three sections of the enclosed skywalk, but has targeted the windowless east-west corridor as the primary location.

Operation Committee Chairman Lew Chamberlin said there was enough interest in the system to warrant a further look. “We should do some research to see what’s available on the revenue side,” he said.

The computer-generated experiences are part of the CAA’s plan to add art pieces to the skywalk, a stretch that has drawn complaints from visitors for being a long, boring walkway. Displaying pieces done by local artists is also part of the plan, as are iconic photographs of the city and region.

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