Bump-out looking like better arena plan

November 30, 2009
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Members of the Convention and Arena Authority are expected to receive an update this week on expanding the Van Andel Arena’s northwest concourse. If they like what they hear, they could make a decision to move the project forward in January.

What they are likely to hear is a consideration to eliminate one expansion option — the least expensive one that doesn’t extend that corner of the arena outside of the building. It would add 1,900 square feet to the area that gets congested when an event’s attendance tops 8,000 for an estimated cost of $425,000.

But CAA member Lew Chamberlin pointed out that option breaks up the vista of the lobby and disrupts the aesthetic look of the interior.

Chamberlin and three others visited the Palace of Auburn Hills recently to get personal glimpses of three expansions the building has been through, and one was similar to the less costly option for the arena. He came to his conclusion after examining that expansion at the Palace. “The one option that we saw eats up the lobby,” he said. “But I thought it was a great trip.”

The Palace’s other two expansions were closer to the more expensive option for the arena, as both extensions bumped the building out. Chamberlin said those extensions improved operations at the Palace by increasing the size of the concourse for traffic and by creating more space for revenue opportunities from concession and merchandise sales.

“It could have a substantial impact on the bottom line here,” he said.

The second arena option would extend the concourse’s corner by 3,100 square feet and create enough room for a 60-seat food court at an estimated cost of $875,000. This option bumps outside of the building, but keeps the lobby fairly intact. There are two versions of this option and the major difference between the two is how they look from the outside.

CAA Chairman Steven Heacock told the Business Journal in September that he prefers the “bump-out” option.

“It’s funny because when I initially saw the drawings, I really didn’t like the bump-out and I’ve grown to like that. I really like that because it gives us so much more room operationally, and I’ve come to have a better perception of the external look with the bump-out,” he said then.

“The internal-only takes air space, which I don’t particularly like. While it solves the problem, it’s sort of a compromise to me. The other (option) truly solves the problem and solves it for the long term,” he added.

The concessions and merchandise stands in the northwest corner account for up to 25 percent of the building’s sales in those categories each year, and adding a food court there could increase ancillary revenue. The naming rights to a food court could also be sold for extra revenue, similar to what was done for the Huntington (Bank) Club on the lobby floor and the Arbor Mortgage Club on the concourse level.

Money from the capital improvements budget would pay for an expansion. The budget contains $1.9 million this year.

Another potential addition to the arena would be a $200,000 LED board that could pump up in-house advertising sales.

“The LED and additional space can really give us something to tout,” said Chamberlin.

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