New look planned for Van Andel Arena frontage

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The long cold cement sidewalk that spans Fulton Street in front of Van Andel Arena does what it’s supposed to do. It just isn’t very attractive.

“It is functional. But we care a lot about the people that come in,” Steve Heacock, who chairs the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, said.

The current front of Van Andel Arena.

So the Convention/Arena Authority and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. are working on plans to spruce up the place.

“Some plantings in the middle with trees,” Heacock explained Wednesday. “There will be trees, grass, some sloping places to sit. Sort of a nice piazza, plaza sort of setting.”

Van Andel Arena opened in 1996, five years before 9/11 forced public venues to rethink security. That’s part of the plan as well. Currently, there are no barriers between Fulton Street and the front of the arena.

“It’s not something we worried about 18 years ago,” Heacock said as he walked along the front of the arena. “But today, you worry about somebody taking a truck, accidentally or otherwise, and hitting this huge wall of glass. Not acceptable.”

The walkway design would help reduce the risks.

>>PDF: Proposed redesign renderings

The proposed upgrades also address the alley that separates the east side of the arena with the backs of bars and restaurants along Ionia Avenue SW. DGRI and the CAA are working with those businesses to create a sort of cafe setting.

Right now, the alley allows delivery and refuse vehicle access to the back of the businesses.

“Of course, the challenge that you can see is what you do with all the garbage. You’ve got a brewery here. And you’ve got fry stations. There’s a lot take care of,” Heacock said of the alleyway. “But our hope is … kind of condense that, make it something that is more hidden, and then you can use this space.”

DGRI, which collects a portion of taxes from downtown businesses for improvements, and the CAA, which is funded through the county hotel/motel tax, will split the public portion of the estimated $1 million project.

Van Andel Arena alley redesign rendering
A courtesy rendering shows the proposed upgrades to the alley that runs along the east side of Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids.

“We really want it to be warmer out here, a more welcoming environment,” Heacock said. “And it’s usable. And will become, we hope, kind of an attraction. People will come and sit here at lunch, enjoy the amenity at other times, as well.”

Final plans are expected to be announced in August. Heacock said the project should take about a year to complete.

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