Arts & Entertainment, Banking & Finance, and Economic Development

CAA eyes $40M venue

Amphitheater plan originally was proposed back in 2007, but economic downturn forced officials to table idea.

January 18, 2019
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Grand Rapids community leaders are considering building a new amphitheater that could cost $40 million.

After discussions that began more than a decade ago, the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority is taking the next steps toward potentially constructing a 10,000- to 15,000-seat amphitheater in Grand Rapids, likely in Millennium Park.

After CAA Chair Steve Heacock originally identified the amphitheater project worth consideration around 2007, the board commissioned Progressive AE to look at possible sites and costs.

Though it’s changed now, Heacock said Kent County tended to lack tourists during the summer, so the CAA was exploring ideas to better attract tourists during those months.

Due to the economic downturn, securing public funding was difficult, and the future venue’s success was uncertain, so the board deferred pursuing the project until better conditions emerged.

The CAA board voted Jan. 11 to contract Progressive AE to further explore the possibility of the outdoor concert and performance venue, including determining needed additional geotechnical work, confirming the ability of proposed sites to handle the venue and developing a scope of services necessary to finalize a complete project cost.

The concert industry in West Michigan has been strong, and national promoters have expressed interest in re-engaging the amphitheater conversation, according to Rich MacKeigan, regional manager of SMG, which oversees the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Performance Hall and DeVos Place, and is governed by the CAA.

The state recently approved $5 million this year toward the project and indicated it may contribute another $5 million for next year. MacKeigan said he still is exploring options for remaining funding.

Heacock said that because there’s a market for this, if the CAA does not pursue the project, another entity likely will.

"If it's done in our marketplace — because there's a market for that business — apart from us, it will draw whatever business we might have been doing at the arena during that time and could hurt us financially, and it could hurt our ability to continue to be viable,” Heacock said.

According to MacKeigan, based on input from experts, the amphitheater would likely cost about $40 million. Based on experience managing the Van Andel Arena, he said about 12,000 seats would be a good number.

Though there are a couple of places of interest for construction, he said the primary parcel being considered is Millennium Park, located at 1415 Maynard Ave. SW in Grand Rapids, though there are some ingress and egress questions that need to be addressed.

MacKeigan said he anticipates a more complete estimate and site decision within the next two to three months, and he believes the project could be ready for CAA approval by the end of June.

He said the city of Grand Rapids, Kent County, the Kent County Parks Foundation and the city parks department all have been supportive of the project.

In exploring the project ideas, Heacock said the CAA has been sure to revisit the purpose of its existence, which he said, under state law, is to encourage tourism and use of the area for conventions.

In doing so, he said there is agreement that providing the venue would be a proactive decision for the benefit of the community and others.

“To bring outsiders in to spend money here, to look at our city as a possible landing place for their businesses, to increase jobs and retain jobs that are here,” Heacock said. “That is our purpose.”

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