Rock the Rapids event proposed for downtown

February 12, 2011
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Denny Baxter and Dan McCrath, partners in Bluecap Entertainment LLC, told city commissioners last week that they want to hold a six-day outdoor musical festival in downtown Grand Rapids this summer. They want to move the event from Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, where Rock the Rapids was held for its first two years, to a city-owned parking lot along Cherry Street just east of Grandville Avenue.

“I do think the parking lot we’re looking at now is a great site,” said Baxter, a founding partner with Lew Chamberlin of the West Michigan Whitecaps and its CFO, of the Area 4 lot. “I do believe this location doesn’t intrude that much with the regular flow of traffic downtown.”

Rock the Rapids would feature live concerts from Aug.8-13 from 7-10:30 each night. McCrath, who also is the director of new business development for the Whitecaps, compared the extended version of Rock the Rapids to Muskegon’s Summer Celebration and Lansing’s Common Ground events. He also pointed to ArtPrize: “Grand Rapids did so well with ArtPrize, so why not music?” McCrath said.

Bluecap Entertainment wants to move the longer event downtown because scheduling that many days at the ballpark would be hard to do in light of the Whitecaps schedule. The team plays all its home games at Fifth Third Ballpark from April into early September.

Baxter said the first Rock the Rapids ran for two nights two years ago at the ballpark; a third night was added to last year’s event. Country, rock and hip-hop highlighted the concert calendar last summer, and the event drew about 20,000 over its three-night run. Baxter said he hopes to draw from 6,000 to 12,000 each night this summer. He wants to keep ticket prices down so many families can attend.

“It would be my hope that we could have ticket prices as low as $10 for an event,” he said.

McCrath said he and Baxter have formed a board of directors that will serve as advisors in the planning of the event. Baxter said he wanted to take his time in putting Rock the Rapids together. “It’s kind of my method of operation to move slowly and learn,” he said. “That’s why we’re talking about one stage at one location. Can it expand? It could, but we want to prove ourselves first.”

Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom said the Downtown Alliance, an association of business owners in the district, wants to help Baxter and McCrath plan the event. Sundstrom also told city commissioners that they didn’t have to approve the event.

But Mayor George Heartwell said commissioners should tell Sundstrom if they didn’t think the musical festival should be held downtown or if they had other issues regarding the event.

Commissioners are planning to make a decision Tuesday on another event proposed for downtown. They decided last week to delay their verdict on River City Bike Week until this week. The four-day event could bring as many as 50,000 motorcycles and 60,000 people into the district July 20-24. Organizers said individuals attending the event would spend an average of $500 each while they’re here. Two commissioners, Rosalynn Bliss and James White, were ready to give Bike Week a green light last week, but the remaining five had apprehensions about hosting the event downtown.

Commissioner Walt Gutowski said the movie production companies that have filmed downtown have disrupted business activity for some of the city’s smaller businesses, and he was concerned that Bike Week would do the same. “We need to talk about those smaller businesses,” he said. Gutowski asked for another week to learn more about the event.

Heartwell said he was concerned about the noise of 50,000 motorcycles and felt the event would be disruptive to downtown businesses and residents. “I am listening to those voices. They are less than enthusiastic,” he said. Heartwell added that if a vote had been held last week, he would have given Bike Week “a thumbs down.”

Heartwell said Bike Week would cost the city from $75,000 to $95,000 for police, fire, traffic safety, parking services, licensing and a few other functions to set it up. “Let’s assume the promoter will cover that cost,” the mayor said.

Sundstrom said city staff could make it work. “The Downtown Alliance is very interested in participating, perhaps setting guidelines,” he said.

The event’s promoters want to use four city-owned parking lots and are not planning any outdoor concerts, but they may hold two indoor shows at Van Andel Arena. The promoters would be required to buy at least $1 million worth of general-liability insurance and additional liquor-liability coverage.

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