Architecture firm gathers ideas for Calder Plaza


Those in attendance at last week’s meeting voted on pieces that will make up the final design of a revamped Calder Plaza. Rendering by DGRI

Ideas for a makeover of Grand Rapids’ iconic Calder Plaza are coming into focus.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County are in the midst of figuring out the next steps to enhance the plaza around Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse at the heart of downtown.

DGRI held a public meeting Aug. 30, “Re-imaging Calder Plaza Community Discussion,” which saw a few dozen residents in attendance. The architect of the project, Denver-based Design Workshop, took attendees through various design concepts. Those in attendance voted through various pieces of the concepts, which ultimately will make up the final design.

“We are in the middle of the master planning process, not at the end, and this gives us an idea of where we are and affords the public a chance to be a part of it and see behind the curtain,” Design Workshop Principal Steven Spears said at the meeting. “The ideas will ultimately come together to create a thoroughbred, the diamond of a master plan of what Calder Plaza can be.”

Design Workshop also is working with Arkansas-based Marlon Blackwell, New Jersey-based ETM Associates and Ontario-based RWDI on the project. The city’s budget to complete the design process is capped at $200,000, according to DGRI.

To arrive at last week’s three conceptual plans, DGRI conducted initial surveys — which garnered more than 1,800 responses from the community — a community workshop, steering committee conversations and several focus group discussions. An online survey will be launched to find the best pieces of the three concepts, along with continued discussions with stakeholders and the steering committee.

A new draft of a concept will be released in October, before the final plan is set to be finished in December.

The challenge posed to Spears and his team is to create a world-class public plaza, he said. The process to figure out what “world class” means to the community will require many open discussions, Spears said.

“This is an iterative process,” he said. “It’s how we all think about urban space, bits and pieces of ideas that are meaningful and put them into a preferred concept.”

During the first portion of the planning, three main values for the plaza were discovered in the more than 1,800 survey responses: create activities; design and amenities; and access and mobility. The initial survey responses also found the city’s residents largely are less than satisfied with the status of Calder Plaza as it stands today.

“The ‘do nothing’ option is not going to hit the mark of where the majority of the community feels it should be,” Spears said.

All three concepts have lush vegetation along the exterior of the plaza, with various options for seating. Most respondents in the initial survey said shade was among their chief concerns. All three also provide clean sight lines and open space around La Grand Vitesse and multiple accessibility options into the plaza for increased mobility and circulation, as well as an enhanced pedestrian crossing across Ottawa Avenue and pedestrian connection to the Monroe Avenue level.

Restaurants and retail also were important to both initial survey respondents and to those attending the meeting.

The first design concept, “Modernist Lines,” includes a biergarten on the Monroe Avenue corner behind the county building and a food truck plaza on the Ottawa Avenue entrance.

The second concept, “Sculptural Grove,” has two shaded pavilions along the northern edge of the plaza and an interactive water feature in front of the county building.

Both of the first two concepts include a pedestrian bridge over Monroe Avenue, including a bridge into DeVos Place’s mezzanine level and the city’s skywalk system.

“Urban Living Room” creates carved-out “rooms” in the border vegetation, along with an event lawn in front of the county building. The third concept also includes the most retail possibilities along the Monroe Avenue level sidewalk. A stairway-ramp combination to Monroe Avenue also would create an occasional amphitheatre for performances.

During the public meeting, members of the audience voted through more than a dozen questions on pieces of each concept they admired. Those results, along with the soon-to-be launched online survey, will help Design Workshop come up with the final draft concept.

“We want to take pieces of great things you all feel and mine those to create a preferred master plan,” Spears said. “That way, it’s not Plan 1, 2 or 3, but little pieces of each, and that’s what will make it special.”

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