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Published in Economic Development
Grand Rapids Gold bringing basketball back to downtown GR with 5-year deal at Van Andel Arena COURTESY PHOTO

Grand Rapids Gold bringing basketball back to downtown GR with 5-year deal at Van Andel Arena

BY Friday, June 03, 2022 11:59am

The Grand Rapids Gold G-League basketball team has a new home.

Gold officials this week announced that the team will play its 24 home games at Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids this coming season. The freshly inked deal covers the next five seasons, where the Gold will share a season with the arena’s longtime tenant the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.

On the heels of news that Gold’s current home, the DeltaPlex Arena & Conference Center, would close its doors this summer, Gold President Steve Jbara said in April that the team was considering VanAndel as a potential landing spot for the team.

Speaking with MiBiz, Jbara credited the Griffins organization and the G-League for flexibility in accommodating the schedule, which could include additional home games if the Gold reach the playoffs. He also said that the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority (CAA) was instrumental in sealing the deal.

The arena, which is managed by ASM Global, seats 12,000 attendants for athletic events. The Gold’s former home featured a capacity of roughly 6,000 fans, making the Van Andel a bit oversized for a typical Gold crowd. Jbara said the team might block off certain sections of the arena to condense the crowds, but he also sees an opportunity to grow its fan base significantly.

“Van Andel opens us up to significantly more opportunities as far as convention traffic and students and people using the bus routes,” Jbara said. “And just the big one is walk-ups. Those people maybe didn’t have the opportunity to walk to and from a bar at the DeltaPlex. Those things are all going to help us chip away at the size.”

The Van Andel Arena has hosted professional basketball in the past. In the late 1990s, the Grand Rapids Hoops played there for a brief stint.

Jbara said the changing landscape of downtown, and the G-League’s direct affiliation with the NBA, will be major factors in successfully bringing professional basketball back into downtown Grand Rapids.

“The big part is the credibility of this league — the roster we had, and the NBA guys we had in and out,” Jbara said. “That helps to incentivize fans to come and see what’s going on. The basketball is so strong and so good. Now, the downtown landscape, the people and the restaurants — all of the excitement I think leads to a little easier path to making this successful.”

Jbara and the SSJ Group, a group of investors that own the team, have been forced to make transformational changes with the team over the last couple of years.

The team in 2019 — then called the Grand Rapids Drive — learned that it would lose its affiliation with the Detroit Pistons. The final season of that affiliation agreement was also then canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not long after, the team announced its new affiliation with the Denver Nuggets and its name change to the Grand Rapids Gold. Following its inaugural season, though, is when it learned that its home arena had been sold.

“It’s been quite a moving target for us,” Jbara said. “But the five-year (agreement with Van Andel), we’re really excited about it. We never really had the runway to invest in the area and be comfortable that we’re here for a long time. Not only is Van Andel a good step, but it will show our fans we’re around … to really and fully commit the Gold to the area.”

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