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The Ballroom at McKay opens with historic look

May 22, 2013
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Ballroom at McKay opens with historic look
A rendering of the newly renovated Ballroom at McKay with full seating.

Mayor George Heartwell took one look and said, “Wow.”

He was standing inside the newly renovated ballroom at McKay Tower in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, at 146 Monroe Center NW.

Heartwell and other guests were at the historic building to celebrate the second-floor ballroom’s grand opening last week.

“It’s just a gorgeous space, and who knew it was here? Well, if you’re as old as me, you knew it was here,” the mayor quipped, as he stared up at the towering white pillars, the restored original marble walls and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.

The 10,900-square-foot ballroom renovation of The Ballroom at McKay, which cost just under $1 million, began after Steadfast Property Holdings principal Jonathan Borisch bought the 97-year-old building from former owner Mark Roller for $10.5 million last May.

Borisch said his father had always told him, “If you’re going to own property, it ought to be something that’s pretty special.”

Moments before Borisch and Heartwell unveiled a banner reading “Be Our Guests” to the gathered audience, he revealed just how special the space actually was not just to him, but to the city as well.

“My understanding is that this property we’re standing on right now was the first piece of property that was tract and purchased in what was to be Grand Rapids,” he said.

“It was purchased by a man named Joel Guild in 1824 for $45. In 1926, it became Grand Rapids’ first skyscraper when O-A-K (Owen-Ames-Kimball) . . . finished the addition of floors 5-16. Combined with its awesome architecture, that makes it a pretty special place, and it’s our intention to treat it that way as we go forward.”

The ballroom renovation work was done by O-A-K, a choice that honored the construction company’s long relationship with the building.

It was O-A-K, after all, that built the original two-story building in 1915, when it was the Grand Rapids National Bank.

O-A-K also built the 12-story addition in 1925.

Great cities adaptively reuse buildings, attracting young talent by creating a sense of space, while retaining a sense of history, Heartwell said.

McKay’s ballroom renovation, particularly the original bank-vault-turned-wine-cellar, stands as a testament to that ideal, he said.

The ballroom space, which holds about 200, is expected to be used for weddings, business meetings, corporate events, luncheons and other activities, said Chaundra Derks, building owner and daughter of Borisch.

Derks expressed thanks to the ballroom developers, particularly Craig Architects and interior designer Kathryn Chaplow.

“The inspiration behind the ballroom was two things,” she said. “Opening this remarkable space for others to enjoy and restoring this historic landmark as the center of Grand Rapids.”


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