City did have arena partnership role
The substance and thrust of your argument (GRBJ editorial, “Cynics may have their day but market project will bear economic fruit,” March 29) is something about which I have nothing but support. However, if you are going to start rewriting history, you had better hold off until all of us who were involved in making it have joined the choir invisible.
Case in point: You wrote in the third paragraph, “When Grand Action announced it would build an arena in downtown Grand Rapids, the sniping was endless and extended to the ‘leadership’ of both the city and country commission. Nobody wanted to own it.”
When I became mayor at the beginning of 1992, I met with a lifelong friend, Dave Frey, who brought me up to speed. I immediately told him we could do this together, but wanted to see if the county would join in. Their come-back to me was “no thanks.” So the city of Grand Rapids AND Grand Action began to work to make it happen. The City Commission agreed to float a $55 million bond issue to build the building and own it. For that much money, using land the city already owned, we, all alone, could have built the same-sized building we ended up with — 11,000 seats for sports, 12,500 for entertainment. Of course, it would have had a lot of precast concrete and bench seating like at U of M's football stadium.
I do not underestimate the vital role of Grand Action. They got it started while we were working our way through the bond-issuing process. They actually took the first steps with their own money, which, after Proposition A in 1994 changed our state taxing system, saved us a lot of money. They even increased their support over time to a final total gift amount of $20 million (about 38 percent of the total cost) because they wanted it to be a "world-class facility." So it was, so it still is. In most of the next seven years I continued as mayor, the Van Andel Arena was ranked No. 1 in our size range (10,000-15,000 seats) in the whole country. And we were 16 percent smaller than the ones with a full 15,000 seats. The trust between the city and Grand Action was really just a handshake — how extraordinary. So off went the plans for concrete walls and bench seating for what we have now. That partnership succeeded because we built it TOGETHER, and the city owned it from day one, until we agreed to put it under the control of the City-County Arena Authority five years later.
John H. Logie
Mayor of Grand Rapids, 1991-2003