Architecture, Construction, and Economic Development

Redesign of Calder Plaza picks up speed

Officials plan to keep it as an open gathering place in center of downtown.

February 19, 2016
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A conceptual design for reimagining one of Grand Rapids’ best-known downtown gathering spaces could be finalized this year.

The city of Grand Rapids, Kent County and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. are leading a renewed effort in the potential redevelopment of Calder Plaza, which has become an iconic symbol for the community since the 1969 dedication of Alexander Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse” sculpture in the downtown core.

Tim Kelly, planning manager for DGRI, said the redesign has been talked about for a number of years, and the GR Forward planning process provided some momentum for the project.

“We had a lot of conversations there with public spaces and really raising the profile of some of our existing spaces and parks downtown,” said Kelly.

Vandenberg Plaza, commonly called Calder Plaza, was one of the public spaces identified in the GR Forward plan to be transformed into “vibrant public spaces that truly represent downtown,” according to the report.

Some of the possibilities for redevelopment include: improving visual and physical access, since three sides of the plaza have large stone walls; introducing more greenery; providing more seating; and exploring development possibilities for the parking lot south of the plaza and on Lyon Street.

That parking lot is bordered by the Calder Plaza Building, 250 Monroe Ave. NW, and the Fifth Third Bank Building, 111 Lyon St. NW.

The Calder Plaza Building is owned by CWD Real Estate Investment and recently lost a major tenant — the Miller Johnson law firm, which is moving to the new Arena Place. Fifth Third Bank officials in November sent out a Request for Proposals to potential developers for the Lyon Street building. Warner Norcross law firm announced recently it would be leaving the building for a new two-tower development planned for the corner of Lyon and Ottawa Avenue NW.

DGRI, the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County issued a Request for Proposals Oct. 19, 2015, for potential conceptual plans to improve the plaza while respecting its “historic aspects.” Nearly 14 teams throughout the United States responded by the closing date of Nov. 16.

The three major partners in the initiative also developed a 17-member stakeholder Steering Committee to work with DGRI, the city and county, as well as guide the overall process.

“We solicited names from our board as well as from the city and county, and the group was ultimately approved by the (Downtown Development Authority) board because the DDA will be carrying the contract for the project,” said Kelly.

Steering Committee members include: Ace Covey, Grand Rapids Sport and Social Club; Brandy Moeller, city of Grand Rapids and Alliance for Vibrancy; Carl Kelly; Chris Reader, Spectrum Health; Dana Friis-Hansen, GRAM; Duke Turley, community member; Eddie Tadlock, DeVos Place; Elizabeth Hoffman-Ransford, historian; Greg Sundstrom, city manager; and Jorge Gonzales, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Other members are: Kristian Grant, Sydneys Boutique GR and Alliance for Investment; Lisa LaPlante and Mary Swanson, Kent County; Lynee Wells, Williams and Works and Alliance for Livability; Mark DeClercq, city of Grand Rapids; Scott Stenstrom, Fifth Third Bank and Alliance for Vibrancy; and Tommy Allen, artist.

The Steering Committee’s first task was to review the conceptual plans submitted by the consultants. It ultimately identified four teams to interview. After interviewing the four groups at the beginning of this month, the committee requested additional time to consider a final selection after narrowing down the pool to two.

The consultant team hadn’t been identified as of Feb. 16, but the committee was expected to make a decision within a week of the DDA’s Feb. 5 meeting.

Kelly said while there isn’t a completed design yet, some of the “themes” for the Calder Plaza redesign identified through the GR Forward outreach were adding greenery such as turf or trees, improving connections from Monroe to Ionia avenues, and maintaining the plaza as a civic space.

“We want to make sure we are continuing to be able to accommodate large events because it is one of our only big event spaces in downtown,” said Kelly.

“I know the city and county, who are obviously partners on this, given they own the plaza itself, are interested in continuing to maintain that area as a civic space because it is the heart of the civic culture and dialogue in the city,” Kelly added.

The Steering Committee will have the responsibility of advising on public participation strategies, final project recommendations, and promoting the process within the community, according the Dec. 9 DDA meeting agenda.

Once the consultant team is identified, the conceptual design and community engagement process is expected to take between six to eight months, with a target date of finalizing designs by late fall.

“The first order of business will be sitting down with the consultants and Steering Committee to lay out the process for engagement and then making sure we have milestones in place that we are continuing to work toward,” said Kelly. “There will definitely be a community engagement component to this. I think what that looks like still remains to be seen.”

With Calder Plaza being the “civic heart” of Grand Rapids and Kent County, Kelly said the project team and Steering Committee will want to make sure to engage people “in different ways to really imagine what the plaza could become.”

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