Creative, but costly

April 19, 2009
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Members of the Convention and Arena Authority Operations Committee agreed last week to witness what is being billed as a multi-sensory experience that has tentatively been designed for the corridors in the enclosed skywalk that runs from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to DeVos Place. They will get a personal demonstration next month.

Up to five locations on the walkway could get wrapped in digital multimedia imagery that would use sight, sound, smell and touch technologies to provide out-of-town visitors with a memorable experience of Grand Rapids. No building in the Midwest has this.

But it’s expensive. An early cost estimate puts it between $800,000 and $1.2 million, depending on the treatment.

“These are phenomenally creative ideas that you can’t help but love. But spending a million dollars on the hallway seems crazy to me,” said Greg Sundstrom, committee member and interim Grand Rapids deputy city manager.

The multi-sensory experience node, as it is called, is one of three art options that Progressive AE presented to the committee. Others involve hanging iconic art pieces that reflect the city’s history and displaying work done by local artists. But CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan, who has led the art search for the board, said the cost difference between the options was a few hundred thousand dollars.

Robert Ferguson of Progressive AE said the digital imagery would be continuously displayed on the floors, walls and ceilings, and could be changed at any time.

“If you come in the fall, you’ll have one experience. If you come in the spring, you’ll have another,” he said.

Ferguson was quick to note that this latest imagery isn’t simply a projection.

“It will track people as they pass, and change the projection as they walk,” he said. “You can ‘play’ volleyball on the beach with this. The seed is there to create a true multimedia memorable experience for their trip to Grand Rapids.”

Progressive AE Director of Design Bryan Koehn told the committee the experience node didn’t have to be installed in all five locations, nor did it have to be installed at once. He said the best corridor for it was south, the stretch that goes from the hotel to the windows that overlook Monroe Avenue.

“By phasing, you can do an installation in the south corridor and not do anything in the Monroe corridor,” he said.

The experience node could also become a revenue source for the CAA. The board could, for instance, put a company’s logo on those “volleyballs” for a price.

“Other than donor recognition, there is no revenue-producing signage in the building,” said MacKeigan, also SMG regional general manager of the convention center.

The skywalk art search began last year after enough conventioneers complained that the walk from their hotel rooms to the DeVos Place entrance was boring, a negative comment that MacKeigan said he never expected to hear.

“We thought we were done after we provided a safe and clean environment,” he said.

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