Architecture & Design and Arts & Entertainment

Arena property enhancements in planning stage

Leaders hope $1M project will transform area around Van Andel Arena into pedestrian-friendly space.

June 14, 2019
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VAA Plaza Night
The design focuses on the plaza outside the arena entrance, the alley in between the arena’s east side and businesses facing Ionia Avenue, and the property perimeter along Ottawa Avenue. Rendering courtesy MKSK Studios

Planning is underway for a redesign of the Van Andel Arena plaza and perimeter.

The $1-million enhancement project would transform the sparse land around the arena into a pedestrian-friendly space meant to better connect the arena district.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority are reviewing concepts from the partly finished design by Columbus-based MKSK Studios.

The CAA budgeted $500,000 for the project for next year, and a match of $500,000 is coming from DGRI, according to Rich MacKeigan, SMG regional manager.

The design focuses on the plaza outside the arena entrance, the alley in between the arena’s east side and businesses facing Ionia Avenue, and the property perimeter along Ottawa Avenue.

Key goals for the area include greening and other aspects that invite pedestrians to spend time in the area; an elevated plaza for improved arena security; and an alley design that is integrated into the plaza design and is informed by business owners.

The redesign would provide a safer, more enjoyable space for large crowds waiting outside the arena.

“What I continue to try and do, and have our team do, is don't be confined by what's been there for 20-plus years. Really get a sense for what it will be,” MacKeigan said. “Because I think the potential for utilization, not just from an event perspective but from a city perspective, is really, really high.”

Andy Knight, of MKSK Studios, said the company spent about seven months studying the site and speaking to business and property owners around the arena.

“One of the reasons that we wanted to get involved in the project was it was really a great challenge, a really great opportunity for a highly visible space with a variety of uses,” Knight said.

The plaza plan includes a green performance space with electrical outlets, enhanced visualization of the existing café and an accessible walkway entry garden with available seating.

The plan salvages and reuses the plaza’s multiple donor pavers.

The alley — which is not easily accessible and does not visually reflect downtown, leaders feel — connects the north side of Fulton to the underway Studio Park development. Its enhancement is meant to pull people from Studio Park toward the plaza and further into downtown.

“It has the potential to create two front doors for those businesses — on Ionia, as well as on the alley,” MacKeigan said.

Called “The Sound” in the design concept, the goal is for the alley to become a space where people can spend time, whether before an event or any other time.

“This is an urban open space within downtown Grand Rapids, and it needs to function that way,” Knight said.

The alley will include space for artists and will have string lights overhead. Ionia Square will be green space covering a square between Ionia Avenue and the alley, just south of HopCat at 25 Ionia Ave. SW.

Nearby property and business owners would like to ensure there is space in the alley to accommodate service and emergency access only, not private vehicles.

Knight said contouring throughout the project was inspired by Grand Rapids’ history as Furniture City.

Plans for planters and green space around the property create a canopy containing a variety of trees. Aggregates underneath the planters would allow retention of stormwater, reducing runoff.

Lighting fixtures are planned for the plaza and throughout the space.

An upgraded snowmelt system will be included.

Knight said the design includes foresight about potential future development, perhaps in the parking lot south of the arena, in the next decade or two.

Once it’s finalized and approved, MacKeigan said a bid will be placed for a contractor and then a timeline will be set.

He said there is not really a hard deadline for when the project needs to be done, more so an intent to work around events the arena is hosting.

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