Van Andel Arena-inspired $116 million amphitheater project is already attracting attention from domestic developers

GRAND RAPIDS — Local entertainment and development officials say a planned $116 million outdoor amphitheater builds on the success of Van Andel Arena and could serve as an even more powerful catalyst for further downtown development.

The amphitheater project has cleared major hurdles in recent weeks after city and county officials agreed to move forward with the $24.3 million sale of municipal property in 11.6 acres along the Grand River.

As key public and private entities finalize the sale and line up financing to build the 12,000-seat amphitheater, local officials say the site is already attracting the attention of national developers looking to participate in a wider shoreline revitalization project. These plans include repurposing approximately 20 additional acres along the Grand River for housing, green space, retail and other amenities.

“Because of the pandemic, people have a new appreciation for being outside again,” Kent County Administrator Al Vanderberg said. “The venues are bigger, with business travel slow to return. It’s not just an amphitheater – there will be a park and around 1,700 homes added to the area, creating another city center on the river.

the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena — which operates the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Performance Hall and DeVos Place Convention Center — would expand its role by buying the 201 Market Ave property. SW for the amphitheater. The Convention/Arena Authority (CAA) Board of Directors voted March 30 to exercise an option to purchase the property after receiving necessary approvals from the City of Grand Rapids Commission and the Board of Commissioners of the Kent county. The sale of Market 201 is scheduled to close by June 30, pursuant to an option agreement with the City of Grand Rapids.

“Hopefully we can structure a similar deal at the (Van Andel) Arena with ASM Global, said CAA Board Chairman Rick Winn. MiBiz. CAA contracts with ASM Global to manage the arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall. “We are already in discussions with Live Nation, which is the largest reservation company in the United States. They are very optimistic about the outdoor amphitheater project. They book many outdoor amphitheaters across the country.

The “backbone” of development

Meanwhile, city officials and Big Action 2.0 – a group of business leaders who have spearheaded several major community projects over the years, including Van Andel Arena – devised a larger development plan for 31 acres along the Grand River surrounding the amphitheater. Concept plans include mixed-use development, new waterfront pathways, and mixed-income housing ranging from 1,200 to 1,700 units.

Winn called the amphitheater the “hub” of the larger 31-acre riverfront concept.

“Everybody’s waiting for the amphitheater and that ‘go,'” Winn said. was for the city and county 25 years ago. We are quite confident that it will have as much impact on the surrounding development as the arena, and probably more.

National real estate developers who have never invested in the area before are also showing interest in the 31-acre concept and see the amphitheater as the main draw, Vanderberg said.

“The amphitheater is what brought them here,” Vanderberg said. “There were no specific proposals or numbers, but they said they hadn’t seen so many properties and this type of development happening anywhere else in the country.”

Securing funding

Plans to build a $116 million waterfront amphitheater in downtown Grand Rapids recently won key approvals, but community leaders still have several pieces to complete before the project crosses the line. finishing line.

Grand Action 2.0 – which rebooted the original Grand Action in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to help lead new transformational projects in Grand Rapids – is co-chaired by Carol Van Andel, Dick DeVos and Tom Welch, the regional president of Fifth Third Bank. Winn called the organization a “major player” because it helps secure public and private funding for large-scale projects, including the amphitheater and potentially more waterfront developments.

“We are optimistic about the progress that has been made so far. Affirmation by City, County and CAA Board votes over the past few weeks approving (the) CAA purchase of the property brings us that much closer to ‘leaving’ on this exciting development ,” Grand Action 2.0 Vice President David Frey wrote in an email. . Frey is the past Chairman and President of Union Bank & Trust and has played a major role in the Grand Rapids philanthropic community.

“Grand Action 2.0 joins our community partners, including the City of Grand Rapids, CAA and Kent County, in endorsing and encouraging state funding for this transformative project,” Frey added.

Recently, the economic development organization The Good Place Inc. identified the amphitheater as one of 12 “transformational” projects in the area that officials hope will be able to secure state and federal infrastructure funding.

The estimated $116 million cost for the 12,000-person amphitheater includes land acquisition of $24.3 million. Funding for the project is expected to come from donors, private investment and bonds issued by the city’s downtown development and brownfield redevelopment authorities. The CAA also expects to generate revenue from air rights above on-site parking after construction of the amphitheater. Additionally, the city has an “active request” for $30 million in state funding that officials expect to hear an update on over the summer, the city manager said. Grand Rapids, Mark Washington, at a recent city commission meeting.

“We have been talking with the legislature to secure additional funding to support the project,” Washington said.

Meanwhile, work is underway to relocate a sewer line that runs under 201 Market Ave. and which has been a stumbling block for past development proposals on the property. The $18.6 million relocation project funded by the city, CAA, Amway Hotel Corp.and 63 Market Avenue Holdings LLC — which is registered with RDV Corp.the DeVos family office which owns property in the area – is expected to be completed this year.

Grand Action 2.0 is working with project partners to develop a funding plan for the development of the amphitheater that includes public and private investments, said Grand Action 2.0 Executive Director Jon Nunn. Grand Action 2.0 has completed due diligence for the acquisition of the 201 Market property, including environmental and geotechnical studies, Nunn said MiBiz by email.

“We selected and retained (Detroit-based) national sports and entertainment architecture firm Rossetti to work alongside local design partner Progressive AE and owners representative/cost estimating firm PMA Consultants of Ann Arbor to demonstrate proof of concept,” Nunn said.. “This process includes comparative studies of best-in-class urban amphitheaters, as well as site-specific planning and conceptual design of the entertainment venue, with conceptual architectural renderings. The study will also take into account impacts on traffic, parking demands and sound transmission.

The study is expected to be completed by August and should validate the project’s budget and support fundraising, Nunn said.

Ensuring fairness

If CAA buys its share of Market 201 as planned, the city plans to deposit $10 million from the sale of the $24.3 million property into a fund that could be invested in future affordable housing. Additional revenue could also cover costs associated with moving the city’s public works operations from Market 201 to a Kent County Road Commission site that the city plans to purchase by September 2023.

At a March 29 city commission meeting, Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said revenue from the sale of Market 201 properties should be reinvested in her district, which spans the South Side -east of the city and has been historically underinvested compared to other areas of the city.

“I would challenge each of us sitting around this table (to have) solid conversations about how we make sure we allocate a significant portion of that $10 million to the Third Ward specifically,” said Linear at the meeting.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said decisions on spending the $10 million will be part of future budget processes.

Commissioner Joe Jones, who represents the city’s second ward on the northeast side, said the amphitheater project is poised to benefit the entire city and county, but is also an opportunity for equitable investments and contracts with minority-owned businesses.

“There’s a concern about how this can be a benefit for the Third Ward in particular, those who have been historically marginalized, African Americans and Latinx (people),” Jones said. “What gives me hope about this project is that I have worked with CAA to advance and promote equity and to do so in a way that goes above and beyond. beyond words. There is a major effort to promote equity.

Jones said he was confident the project would include equitable components and have a “ripple effect” for surrounding developments, including completing parts of the city’s River for All plan. The city must ensure that opportunities for businesses owned by people of color are part of development and that proceeds from the sale of properties are reinvested in marginalized parts of the city, Jones added.

Winn, of the CAA Board of Directors, said diversity, equity and inclusion will be considered in ongoing development opportunities.

“Our goal is to open up (the development of the amphitheater) to as many local entrepreneurs as possible and to be as inclusive as possible for all those who would like to bid on the construction,” Winn said.

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