Arena expansion back on agenda

August 23, 2009
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Believe it or not, an Australian rock band may turn out to be the convincing factor that alters the Convention and Arena Authority’s spending on capital improvements this fiscal year.

CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan said a sold-out performance last week by AC/DC in Van Andel Arena reinforced his belief that the northwest interior concourse needs to be expanded to relieve congestion in that portion of the building during heavily attended events, which number about 60 each year.

The board began discussing the expansion over a year ago, but decided to put the project on the back burner until more funds became available. MacKeigan, however, came up with a plan that doesn’t need additional monies to cover the expansion’s estimated cost. Instead, he proposes to take dollars that have already been allocated and spend that money differently.

In June, the CAA gave conditional approval to spend $1.2 million on an electronic ribbon board that would run along the interior façade between the arena’s lower and upper bowls. The ribbon board would replace the existing advertising boards and, hopefully, increase ad revenue to the building and to DP Fox Sports and Entertainment, which owns a majority of the Grand Rapids Griffins and handles much of the in-house ad sales for the arena.

The funds for the ribbon board were included in the $1.9 million capital improvement budget approved for this year.

MacKeigan said he wants to spend the money targeted for the ribbon board on a smaller $200,000 LED board to be installed underneath the scoreboard, and on the concourse expansion.

Rossetti & Associates, the lead architect for the arena project, conducted a circulation study of the concourse and submitted four options for expansion, two of which were reviewed last week by the CAA Operations Committee.

One design would expand that corner by 1,940 square feet and cost $425,100. The other would add 3,100 square feet, create room for a food court with about 60 seats, and cost $875,000.

“I am surprised at the smallness of the numbers,” said City Manager Greg Sundstrom of the estimated costs.

The larger expansion extends the court outside of the building, while the smaller version doesn’t make any changes to the exterior. The cost for an expansion option and the LED board range from $625,100 to $1.07 million — less than the $1.2 million price tag of the ribbon board.

“I think this approach makes a lot of sense, to combine the two projects,” said Lew Chamberlin, chairman of the operations committee.

MacKeigan said he discussed the new idea with DP Fox officials and hopes the firm will pick up a portion of the cost. “DP Fox is comfortable with this concept,” he said.

He will present details of the plan to the board this week and then make a formal request for funding next month. He said he favors the smaller expansion, which would clear three portable stands from the aisle and offer room for 12 points-of-sale, but wouldn’t alter the arena’s design as dramatically as the larger option.

“It maintains as much integrity of the lobby as it can, which was a priority for the (operations) committee,” he said. “It’s also one of the least expensive options.”

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