The Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority is considering a plan to allow pop-up restaurants to operate in the Steelcase Ballroom to provide some use for the DeVos Place Convention Center. The Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority is considering a plan to allow pop-up restaurants to operate in the Steelcase Ballroom to provide some use for the DeVos Place Convention Center. COURTESY PHOTO

Officials explore GR convention space for restaurants

BY Sunday, July 19, 2020 05:47pm

GRAND RAPIDS — After months of an empty DeVos Place Convention Center because of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants could soon be operating from the space on a temporary basis.

The center’s operators are exploring the idea of using the Steelcase Ballroom for a pop-up restaurant residency, said Rich MacKeigan, regional general manager of DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena. He brought up the idea during a recent Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority (CAA) meeting. 

Three different restaurant groups have toured the facility to consider the concept, which has been pitched to about 20 different businesses as of July 10, MacKeigan said. 

The CAA — a public entity that owns Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall — was on track to generate $2.5 million to $3 million before the pandemic caused statewide shutdowns in March, said Kent County Fiscal Services Director Robert White. Estimates predict a net loss of about $900,000 for June with virtually no revenue coming in, White said.

“The idea is there would be five different establishments setting up shop so it would be almost like a food court in the ballroom,” MacKeigan said. “Because of the space we have, we can safely social distance.”

The DeVos Convention Center team is working with the county and health department to secure a temporary license that would be good for two weeks, MacKeigan said. They are looking at having establishments pay a daily $200 fee. The food services could include local restaurants, pop-up concepts without a brick and mortar location or catering services. 

“We’re very pleased with how it’s looking and I think it dovetails nicely with the city’s and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s work on the social zones even though the concept is taking place inside,” MacKeigan said. “This will provide some activity in the building and for some local establishments.”

MacKeigan said  the CAA is working on the concept with officials from the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, which houses multiple restaurants and vendors in a shared indoor market space.

Indoor events with more than 10 people are currently not allowed under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s June 1 executive order placing the region in reopening phase 4, but indoor dining is allowed for establishments whose gross sales are at least 70 percent food. Restaurants are also limited to 50 percent capacity.

Restaurants and retail are starting to gradually reopen in downtown Grand Rapids with social zones set up throughout the city to provide bars and restaurants more space for outdoor dining to help with the 50 percent capacity limit. Several Grand Rapids restaurants have at least temporarily closed due to a COVID-19 case among their patrons or staff.

“More opportunities to do things safely downtown is a positive step,” MacKeigan said.

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