The rapids will be rocked again

March 18, 2012
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Grand Rapids city commissioners designated Rock the Rapids as a special event last week and then approved a lease with promoters of the weeklong musical festival, which will be staged again on two city-owned parking lots just south of Van Andel Arena in August. The Downtown Development Authority took the same action last week.

In return, Blue Cap Entertainment President Dennis Baxter and Vice President Dan McGrath agreed to some changes that are designed to send more traffic to downtown restaurants and taverns to alleviate the concerns some business owners had last summer, when a reported lack of parking for their regular customers cost them some revenue.

One change is the general-admission gates to each show won’t open until 6:30 p.m. to give concertgoers a better chance to grab a meal before the 7:30 p.m. shows begin. Another change will limit the number of food stations to six, and Blue Cap will give downtown restaurants first dibs at renting the stations.

“If downtown restaurants do not fill the six stations, outside vendors will be brought in,” said Todd Tofferi, director of the city’s office of special events.

Blue Cap also will work with the Downtown Alliance, which represents businesses in the district, on a marketing program to encourage ticket buyers to visit downtown establishments before and after the concerts, which will end at 11 p.m. on each of the festival’s six nights.

“We certainly look to have some of this spill-off go to the downtown businesses who are there every day of the year,” said Baxter. “But last year, it was not a profitable event (for Blue Cap), being a first-year event.”

Blue Cap also agreed to hold the festival later in August, from the 20th to 25th, so the shows won’t conflict with exam week at Cooley Law School and Western Michigan University, which are both within earshot of the stage.

“Cooley Law School was especially happy about the noise change,” said Commissioner Elias Lumpkins.

“I’m so incredibly impressed with how Mr. Baxter has been willing to work with others,” said County Commissioner Jim Talen, also a DDA board member.

But the concerts will be held during Restaurant Week. That popular promotion, which is sponsored by Experience Grand Rapids and the GR Downtown Development Authority, was recently moved from November to Aug. 15-25. A new jazz festival will make its debut Aug. 18; the free event will be held at Rosa Parks Circle from noon-10 p.m.

Blue Cap will pay $14,000 for use of the Area 4 and 5 parking lots from Aug. 17-27. The extra days allow for set-up and take-down of the concert village. A $5,000 nonrefundable payment has to be made to the city by the promoter when the agreement is signed. Another $5,000 is due by July 16 and the remaining $4,000 is due by Aug. 16.

Baxter said he hasn’t found a title sponsor for the festival yet and wanted to wait until the lease was approved before moving forward. “We’ve been in contact with a number of potential lead sponsors,” he said. “The response from corporations thus far has been phenomenal.”

Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, BTO, Blake Shelton and the Stone Temple Pilots were some of the names that drew more than 38,000 to Rock the Rapids in its initial run last August.

“It’s a great event that has the potential for even being stronger this year,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

But with more events being held downtown, Commissioner Ruth Kelly felt the city needs to take a closer look at all the activity for safety reasons.

“I think we need a broader discussion on handling public space downtown. I think we’re at a point of deciding how we do events downtown,” she said. “So I think we have some problems we need to solve.”

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