DeVos Place sandbags push back floodwater


The DeVos Place convention center stands along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.

The city’s most valuable downtown public buildings, Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place, have stayed relatively dry during the Grand River flooding.

The $75 million arena is pretty much out of harm’s way at the corner of Fulton Street and Ottawa Avenue. But the $212 million convention center is situated along the river’s east bank on Monroe Avenue between Michigan and Lyon streets.

“We’re keeping dry. I think we’re one of the drier spots along that whole space,” said Rich MacKeigan, SMG regional director, of DeVos Place. SMG oversees daily operations for both buildings on behalf of the Convention and Arena Authority.

MacKeigan said there was only one meeting blip that occurred when the flooding began, and that was taken care of quickly. A conference that was being held in the city last weekend took place in two sites; the convention center and in the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Plaza Towers.

When Plaza Towers and the Marriott were evacuated because of flooding, the meetings scheduled in the hotel were shifted to the convention center, and then DeVos Place was turned into a housing assistance center to help the attendees who were staying at the Courtyard find another hotel room.

“That housing assistance center was set-up by the event’s organizers. While we housed it, they were running it,” he said.

MacKeigan said DeVos Place and its performance hall were protected by the sandbags that were piled along the west side of the building. The bags were also stacked there to stop water from running down into the parking garage underneath the structure, a scenario that might have occurred if the water had crested and risen above the floodwall.

“We were planning for that and that issue seems to have alleviated itself. But we still have water coming up from the floor in the parking garage. So we’re constantly monitoring that. We’ve had staff on site 24/7 for probably the last four or five days to monitor the water situation,” he said.

“We are keeping up with the water coming through the floor and it’s all at the parking level. So it’s not impacting any of the event space.”

MacKeigan said the SMG staff is using what are called scrubbers, sort of industrial strength shop vacs, to suck up the water seeping into the parking garage. “It’s not like it’s been knee high or anything like that. It’s been surface area waters and it’s been very manageable in that regard. And we’ve had constant communication with our utility companies.”

MacKeigan said when Plaza Towers was evacuated, the city approached SMG to have the firm set up the arena as a potential shelter for those who had nowhere to go. Even though the arena wasn’t used as a shelter, the staff was ready to turn the building into one if it was necessary. “I think we’re a registered shelter with the Red Cross, anyway,” he said.

MacKeigan said all the valuable equipment on the lower level of the convention center was moved to an upper floor before the flooding began and water hasn’t found its way into the meeting areas of the building. There is, however, some water leaking into the bottom of the elevator shafts. But he said that issue is being handled and is under control.

This brush with water possibly invading the convention center was the second for MacKeigan. About six or seven winters ago, a huge ice jam built up on the river near DeVos Place. He said the building’s water concerns back then were greater than today’s are right now. “It’s primarily water coming from underneath. That’s our greatest issue now,” he said.

MacKeigan added that he didn’t think the steps the SMG staff took to protect the buildings would be very expensive, with the biggest expense most likely going to labor costs.

“I think as it sits right now, we’re not looking at anything being damaged. The one thing we may look to do is to get some type of study done after the fact to see if there are any issues relative to underneath the convention center that the water may have created. As it sits right now, we’re very good, we’re very happy,” he said.

“I’m so very, very pleased and proud of our custodial crew, our event staff and, specifically, our maintenance guys who were ahead of the curve and proactive in monitoring everything once everything started.”

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