Downtown Grand Rapids movie theater plan clears hurdle

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Plans to bring a movie theater to downtown Grand Rapids are moving forward.

Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted unanimously to approve plans for $140 million project.

INSIDE THE PLAN

Developers want to transform the a portion of Area 4 and Area 5 lots located at Ionia Avenue and Oaks Street SW into a mixed-use area that would include a downtown theater.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority unanimously approved moving forward with the $140 million project about two weeks earlier.

The project, proposed by 616 Development and Loeks Theaters, would include a nine-screen theater called Studio C, a piazza with an outdoor screen, 350 market-rate apartments, and 40,000 square feet of retail space. The current 595 parking spaces would be replaced with a parking ramp containing nearly 1,000 parking spots.

MOVE OVER, VAN ANDEL ARENA

The development would generate $369 million in its first decade, according to a study by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. 

That impact includes new consumer spending, tax revenue and new job income.

President and CEO Kristopher Larson expects the venue to attract more than double the number of visitors the Van Andel Arena has each year.

Commissioners must still approve an official contract for the development.

GRAND RAPIDS’ LAST THEATER

It’s been been nearly 40 years since Grand Rapids had a functioning theater downtown, according to Grand Rapids Historical Society member Rev. Dennis Morrow.

At the height of the silent movie era around 1920, ten movie houses were operating in downtown Grand Rapids, Morrow said. He said the smaller ones closed quickly because they couldn’t compete.

Morrow said the eight theaters were operating downtown after World War II began closing shortly after the war, beginning with the Kent theater, which shut down in 1951. Six years later, the Art theater closed, followed by Center (1958), Keith’s (1962), Regent (1964) Midtown (1972), Majestic (1974) and Savoy (1976), Morrow said.

He said the Kent, Art, Center, Keith’s and Regent single-screen theaters were all demolished in the mid-1960s as more residents fled to suburban locations with more movie screens and plenty of parking. The rise of television and new freeways also led to the "gradual abandonment" of downtown and its theaters, Morrow told 24 Hour News 8.

The last surviving downtown theater was Robert Goodrich’s Savoy, which stood on Market Avenue near where the west wall of the Grand Rapids Art Museum meets Rosa Parks Circle today. The Savoy was torn down in June 1980 for additional parking, according to Morrow.


Online: Grand Rapids Historical Commission - Savoy theater

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