Destination Asset Study Top Level Findings

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Convention Center & Hotel Opportunities

Convention Center & Hotel Opportunities
  • Convention center expansion considered for mid-term priority.
  • Hotel development with group room block considered in near-term.
  • Feasibility study needed to determine project size, potential future business opportunities and correlation between center space and hotel room requirements.
Collaborative Partners:

Convention & Arena Authority (CAA), Grand Action, Experience Grand Rapids, City of Grand Rapids, and Kent County


HVS Study was presented at the December CAA meeting and affirmed a 400 room, 40,000 sq. feet meeting space, 20,000 sq. feet ballroom hotel is needed.

Proof of Concept taskforce is being created to look at the HVS study and focus on solidifying construction costs, gain clear understanding of the bonding capacity and if they can be used for funding. 5-7 people will serve on this taskforce, including Doug Small. (3/12/2019)

The Proof of Concept task force continues its work; with new information coming from Progressive on a potential new hotel; meetings are still needed. Conversations are continuing with the City and County in regards to their involvement on the funding side. HVS update report out in 2-3 weeks, which will inform Citi Group with new information for viability assessment. A  full report out potentially mid-year if not sooner. (1/27/2020)

  1. The goal is that in Fall 2019 the Proof of Concept Taskforce will have completed all meetings and pass their findings and recommendations on to the CAA Board. By the end of calendar year 2019 the findings will provide the CAA Board all the details surrounding a possible new hotel; location, cost and design options. Steve Heacock noted that, this Taskforce is working towards narrowing the location to downtown Grand Rapids through their findings.
  2. The CAA has agreed to a contractual agreement with Chris Knape to work with the Taskforce on a new convention center hotel concept.
  3. Doug Small mentioned that there have been several discussions about a amphitheater project with a few possible locations in downtown Grand Rapids. Area 2 directly behind the Arena was noted as a top contender along with several other sites that are being analyzed.  (5/30/2019)

The Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention and Arena Authority is moving forward to find an architectural firm to develop plans for a new 400 room hotel to sit atop DeVos Place Convention Center. READ MORE (12/7/2018)

The CAA Board took action, at its April 2017 meeting, to move forward with a feasibility study.  At the June 2017 meeting, the CAA Board indicated it would like to include a hotel study for the Van Andel Arena®, as well.  A hotel and conference center behind the Arena would enable Experience Grand Rapids and SMG to book additional conventions.  At that meeting, the Board allocated $125,000 for consulting services to cover hotel studies for Monroe Avenue and the Van Andel Arena®, approved development of an RFP, and authorized Mr. MacKeigan to pursue the option of combining the Monroe hotel study with a convention center study.

Based on the evaluation process results, Mr. MacKeigan recommended that the CAA engage the services of HVS.  While all the firms could do the work, HVS has completed over 30 projects in the Grand Rapids market since 2010 and all in the “Hotel Study” realm.  Additionally, HVS has extensive experience dealing with ‘headquarters hotel’ projects as well as ‘hotel districts. (5/9/2018)

The CAA has sent a request for proposals to approximately 8 firms to complete a feasibility study to determine if one or more hotels should be constructed to support current convention center inventory and demand.  There has also been discussion between the CAA, EXGR, AHC + Hospitality and the WMSC pertaining to a RFP to hire a consultant to evaluate funding options for a possible future expansion of the convention center.  This study or evaluation would take place in 2018. (12/13/2017)

Identified as a near-term priority the CAA is preparing to conduct a thorough economic and future business analysis of adding a new hotel to the current DeVos Place site. This study would help determine a target number of guest rooms, amenities and meeting space. (8/17/2017)

Identified as a mid-term priority further analysis of expansion to the convention center is also being discussed. This analysis would require careful analysis of the utilization of the current center, future business opportunities, market demand and competition, meeting trends and other community impacts. (8/17/2017)

Attracting Professional Sports

Attracting Professional Sports
  • USL Soccer offers potential opportunity to further penetrate the professional sports market.
Collaborative Partners:

Local Investment Group, Grand Action, Experience Grand Rapids, and the West Michigan Sports Commission


GRFC has a lot of exciting things we are pursuing to bring an even higher level of professional soccer to the area. GRFC continues to explore various options for a multi-use stadium which could be home to GRFC and be a great venue for other outdoor events in Grand Rapids. Finding the right location and venue is a crucial next step in attracting the USL and NASL to our market. GRFC continues to be interested investing in west Michigan and growing professional soccer! (11/7/2017)

A group of local investors together with the local Grand Rapids Football Club are exploring the possibilities of bringing a NASL or USL league team to the area. In addition to acquiring a team franchise the group would also need to build a championship competition field for the team. (6/17/2017)

Enhancing Amateur Sports Offerings

Enhancing Amateur Sports Offerings
  • Consideration for development of field sport complex.
  • Recommended complex of 12 – 20 multi-sport fields with lighting and parking.
Collaborative Partners:

West Michigan Sports Commission, Experience Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation, and Kent County Parks


Conversations continue with two municipalities on new field locations. Both are investigating details specific to land use and infrastructure. The WMSC Facility Needs Committee plans to regroup once these details have been identified to determine the best location to move forward with. Timing for this is expected around June. Site renderings, anticipated construction costs and a business proforma would follow. (1/27/2020)

Four conversations have taken place with City of Kentwood and one conversation with Cascade Township (which would coincide with the GRFIA) on two favorable locations for a Sports Complex with a recommended 12-16 fields on 100+ acres. There is an opportunity to partner with the City of Kentwood for fundraising and managing the operations of the facility. The sports complex would be a City of Kentwood Park within their system; they would have ownership of it and maintain it, which is desired by WMSC. The Cascade Township location could benefit with a nearby hotel that would serve the GRFIA in the coming years. Steve Heacock mentioned that it’s not out of the pictures that a hotel will come near the Airport, which would drive spectators and participants. WMSC will hold a Facility Needs Committee Meeting to discuss both options. (5/30/2019)

12-16 recommended fields- synthetic turf on 4-6, 90 acres desired. Currently identifying land, prefer eliminating land cost through partnerships.  Following land selection would be master planning and cost to construct.  From there a plan to fundraise for project. The County has come on board saying they want to assist in identifying land within their inventory that could work. (3/12/2019)

Hunden Strategic Partners has completed the feasibility study for a multi-sport field complex.   They recommend building a sixteen field complex with 10 natural grass fields and 6 synthetic turf fields with circulation, amenities, concessions and 1,600 parking spaces.  (3/2/2018)

The West Michigan Sports Commission has commissioned Hunden Strategic Partners to conduct a feasibility study for a multi-sport field complex.  HSP  are based out of Chicago and since 2006, have worked in 42 states offering a variety of consulting services that evaluate the impact sporting facilities have on their communities.  They most recently worked on a municipal project in the City of Westfield, IN ( ).

The current study began Thursday 9/28 with a kick-off meeting in Grand Rapids, in addition to several stakeholder interviews and area facility tours.  The study will continue over the course of 12-14 weeks with the results expected shortly after the first of the year. (11/7/2017)

The WMSC facility needs committee is reviewing proposals from several firms to conduct further economic, facility and location analysis for a multi-sport field complex. (7/7/2017)

Leveraging the Grand River

Leveraging the Grand River
  • River experience in Grand Rapids can become the focal point for visitors.
  • Restoration of river should be aggressively supported and pursued by public sector, foundations and private sector.
  • Facilitate convenient visitor access including consideration for River Destination Center.
  • Facilitate convenient visitor access and amenities north of downtown.

Explore more at the River For All website.

Steve Heacock, senior vice president at Spectrum Health, announced his resignation effective Oct. 1 to become president/CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater Inc. Whitewater’s current president/CEO, Richard Bishop, will work as a consultant as he returns to Georgia to help a friend become Columbus’ new mayor. Grand Rapids Business Journal (9/18/2018)

Collaborative Partners:

Grand Rapids Whitewater, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., City of Grand Rapids, Grand Action, Experience Grand Rapids, and The Right Place, Inc.


The biological assessment on mussels is now completed and ready to be turned in to all seven agencies. It is the first step for permit application to the EGLE, which GRWW hopes to do for the lower stretch of the project yet this year.  Fundraising is still moving along smoothly with a lot of help from local philanthropists. A great deal of this success is due to the strong partnership with the City of Grand Rapids. (1/27/2020)

The White Water Board has been meeting regularly to move this project forward. They are moving forward on different issues with permitting, Federal initiatives in design for regulations in regards to sea lampreys, logistics of getting rocks and boulders in place within the Grand River. The design portion of the project has a myriad of issues that come with it. The goal is that permitting will be completed in 2020 with the project completed in 2021. When this is completed the public will be able to hear the rapids and people will be in the Grand River using regularly. (5/30/2019)

74% of resources have been fundraised for the Capital Campaign. The goal is to get closer to 85% raised before going to a public campaign. Goal for 2019 that permits are in place for the first piece of the project and that construction would being in 2020. Permits were delayed due to the government shutdown. (3/12/2019)

Grand Rapids Whitewater secures $4.4 Million in new funding and names CEO (MiBiz)

Steve Heacock, President of Grand Rapids Whitewater (GRBJ)


The Grand River restoration project was awarded an additional $2 Million by a Michigan Enhancement Grant by the State of Michigan. (12/31/2018)

The River Restoration Project is currently in the permitting and capital campaign process.  The goal is to have permits  completed in 2019 with the ability to start work in the river no later than late Spring 2020.  The Capital Campaign has commitments of over 50% of the total budget of $45,000,000.  The goal is to have the capital campaign competed by 2021. (9/26/2018)

  • Project partners continue their efforts to raise funds from the private sector as well as seeking support from federal, state, & local governments. The project currently has $17.2 million in funding commitments. $4.1 million of those commitments will come from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program aimed at improving in-stream habitat in the Grand River for threatened and endangered species.
  • Capital campaign expected to launch in April of 2018.
  • A draft Habitat Conservation Plan was submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in November 2017. Grand Rapids Whitewater and The City of Grand Rapids continue to work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Michigan DNR, and Michigan DEQ on acquiring environmental permits needed for construction to take place.
  • GRWW & The City of Grand Rapids are working jointly with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize the design and construction plans for an adjustable hydraulic sea lamprey control structure to ensure blockage of invasive sea lamprey remains a top priority.
  • GRWW continues to work with the City of Grand Rapids, DGRI, and Wenk Associates, Inc in the design and development of the Grand River Corridor. This important planning process seeks integrate Grand River Restoration plans with the goals and outcomes of GRForward, Green Grand Rapids, and the Parks and Recreation Master Plan. 


Grand Rapids Whitewater and Officials with the City of Grand Rapids are working to acquire easements needed for construction and modification of the river bottom lands

Roughly $16 million in funding has been pledged to the project. Project partners are continuing to seek multiple funding opportunities from the private sector, state & local governments, and federal/national sources.

A formal capital campaign will launch in 2018.

The City and DGRI are also engaged in developing design standards for trail development along the river corridor and schematic design for five key park sites along the river corridor. (11/7/2017)

GRWW together with its engineering firm River Restoration are nearing the completion of engineering and application documents for the City of Grand Rapids to apply for permits needed to implement the project. GRWW has hired Richard Bishop as its first Executive Director a public fundraising for the project will commence soon. (8/17/2017)

Outdoor and Adventure Opportunities

Outdoor & Adventure Opportunities
  • Establish a first class interconnected trail system.
  • Develop visitor-friendly set of trail heads.
  • Develop unified marketing and mapping for outdoor adventures.
Collaborative Partners:

Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation, Kent County Parks and Experience Grand Rapids.


Michigan recognized as Best for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Trip Savvy’s list of Where to go in 2020 included Michigan as the best for outdoor enthusiasts.

MI DNR Marketing Partnership

Experience Grand Rapids will participate with the MI DNR’s marketing partnership in 2020. Once again, the marketing will focus on fishing and trails with a target launch in April.

New Video Promoting Outdoor Recreation in Grand Rapids Area

EXGR launched a new segment of The Grand Outdoors focusing on winter outdoor recreation. Here is a link to the webpage with the video. (1/27/2020)

  1.  All the ExGR video assets and digital ads for outdoor recreation have been pushed out and are receiving great feedback and viewership.
  2. ExGR is approaching the Kent County hotels to consider implementing outdoor recreation amenities for their hotel and leisure guests. ExGR is providing grant opportunities to Kent County hotels to make changes for their guests who are staying for outdoor recreational purposes. Examples of these opportunities are; installing bike washing stations and providing a place for kayak storage.
  3. There is a lot of opportunity for outdoor recreation and the promotion of it in West Michigan, ExGR is going to continue to push it. (5/30/2019)

Partnering with Michigan DNR trails marketing efforts

Launch of five new outdoor recreation video series, “The Grand Outdoors” on featuring: Paddling, Mountain Biking, Urban Biking, Fishing and Umbrella for all four sports

  •     Local Public Relations awareness campaign
  •     Moosejaw Open House even and video viewing party, Downtown GR
  •     MountainFilm On Tour Saugatuck Center for the Arts
    • Video showing and director talk

Outdoor recreation digital ads, Outdoor billboard campaign, Winter edition of “The Grand Outdoors” fall launch, Pure Michigan content on

Hotel’s outdoor recreation amenities promotion- Embassy Suites first hotel to debut (3/12/2019)

Experience Grand Rapids 2019 Outdoor Recreation Efforts:

  • Partnering with Michigan DNR trails marketing efforts
  • Launch of five new outdoor recreation video series “The Grand Outdoors” on featuring: Paddling, Mountain Biking, Urban Biking, Fishing and Umbrella for all four sports
    • Local Public Relations awareness campaign
    • MountainFilm On Tour Saugatuck Center for Arts (March 22 – 23)
      • Video showing and director talk
    • Moosejaw Open House event and video viewing (April 11) Downtown Grand Rapids location
  • Outdoor recreation digital ads
  • Pure Michigan content on
  • Outdoor billboard campaign (summer/fall)
  • Hotel’s outdoor recreation amenities promotion
  • Additional outdoor recreation images to the photo library
  • Winter edition of “The Grand Outdoors” fall launch


Experience Grand Rapids 2018 Efforts:

Experience Grand Rapids 2019 Efforts Planned:

  • Hiring an outdoor adventure video team to create a video campaign
  • Additional outdoor recreation images to the photo library
  • Promote the City of GR Parks Signage Design Competition on EXGR Social Channels


The City recently completed construction of a new section of trail just north of Canal Street Park up to Leonard Street. This project reduced the height of existing flood walls, built a new 15’ wide segment of trail, and added a new river overlook. The City is now focused on developing plans for the section of trail from Leonard Street to Ann Street for complete connectivity to the regional trails intersecting with Grand Rapids. (11/7/2017)

EXGR created a marketing positioning statement for outdoor recreation.

Grand Rapids is an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It offers convenient access to nature-based experiences combined with the excitement and amenities of an urban destination providing the best of a city trip and the outdoors.

EXGR placed emphasis on enhancing the trails information on its website including digital maps,, launched an update to My City Bikes Grand Rapids App, and participated with the nature trails marketing partnership. (8/22/2017)

Downtown Transportation for the Visitor

Downtown Transportation for Visitor
  • Evaluate recent changes to DASH and Silver Line.
  • Consider distinct visitor circulator route.
  • Convenient transportation for visitor river access north of downtown.
Collaborative Partners:

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Mobile GR and Parking Department, The Rapid and Grand Action.


The DASH is working to be more visible via ad space, rebranding. Four new vehicles are coming Summer 2019. Currently working with The Rapids on a electric bus- cleaner and environmentally friendly

Bike share- in the last stages. The pilot project is running through 2019- Dockless bikes and e-scooters.

Shelters have been taken over from The Rapid to Grand Rapids Mobile (city mobility department)- this Spring upgrades begin. (3/12/2019)

The newly branded DASH routes went into effect on Monday, August 27, 2018. This includes new stop signage, bus wraps and promotional materials. The two newly redesigned routes provide better connections to the cultural institutions, hotels, performance venues and bars and restaurants. The DASH West provides improved connections to Bridge Street, The GR Public Museum and to Van Andel Arena District. DASH North now provides a connection from the North Monroe riverfront district along Monroe to DeVos Place, hotels and all the way to the Downtown Market. Both routes now operate all seven days out of the week with service until 1am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Employees, residents and visitors now have access to more of Downtown. In spring of 2019, the City will be working with DGRI to improve the bus stops throughout Downtown to offer shelters, seating, solar lighting and real-time bus arrival information.

The bike plan and bike share feasibility study are completed and a draft is currently being reviewed by various City advisory committees. The plan will be completed by the end of 2018. Implementation of bike share and other amenities like e-scooters is expected in spring/summer of 2019. (9/25/2018)

Working with the Grey Matter Group, the City has developed four new brand concepts for the DASH circulator. They will be soliciting stakeholder feedback over the next few weeks and arriving on a final design and new color scheme. The City has also been working with DGRI and The Rapid to identify new stop locations for better signage for the DASH. The newly branded DASH, new service routes and new stop location improvements will be completed by August 27, 2018.

The bikeshare feasibility study draft report is being finalized. The recommendations were presented to the City Commission at a work session on February 27, 2018. City staff will be developing a funding strategy with local partners for City Commission consideration in July 2018. With City Commission approval, the City will look to implement a program as early as summer 2019. (3/1/2018)

The City has officially hired The Grey Matter Group to lead the rebrand and update of the DASH circulator service. The project kicks off in October and will be completed by summer 2018. The bike share project kicked off at the end of August 2017. The outreach efforts are underway and the draft plan and recommendations will be completed in December 2017. (11/7/2017)

Efforts led by Mobile GR are underway to re-brand and adjust routes of the current DASH (downtown area circulator) system to increase the ridership of both visitors and community members. In addition, a study analyzing a bike share program is also underway. If proven feasible a bike share program could launch in 2018. (8/22/2017)

Destination Awareness, Inclusion and Diversity

Destination Awareness, Inclusion and Diversity
  • Consider measuring destination awareness and perceived strengths and weaknesses among potential future visitors.
  • Marketing efforts expanded to provide emphasis on current and future outdoor recreational assets.
  • Consider leveraging local authentic stories focusing on neighborhoods and experiences unique to Grand Rapids.
  • Community efforts to support the advancement of minority youth in hospitality industry.
  • Support for recruiting and training to grow a more diverse hospitality workforce.  


  • A Grand Welcome reception saw a 42% increase in attendance over last year. There were 190 guests that attended the third installation of the event, of which 81 were newcomers and the remaining community connectors. The event continues to grow both in attendance and sponsor support – businesses and organizations who recognize the value in the event and its ability to facilitate connections which also support talent attraction and retention.
  • The Ottawa Hills Academy of Hospitality continues to progress through the year with its freshman class. With support from Experience Grand Rapids and Grand Valley State University, the academy leadership are taking steps to develop the advisory board. The board will consist of a diverse group of industry leaders and business owners that seek to support the program and students. Prospective advisory board members will participate in lunch and learn in February, learning more about the academy as well as touring the facility. (1/27/2020)

Discover Tourism is being reconfigured but will continue to  be a program in the future.  A new formula will take place that will better benefit our community and attract new talent into Grand Rapids.

A Multicultural FAM will be taking place in the 2020 budget year, discussions around the details of this will start to take place this Summer when 2020 budget meetings begin. (5/30/2019)

Successfully put an academy of Hospitality and Tourism into Ottawa Hills HS

Historic Black colleges/University tour– Discover GR program; 8 students came to GR and all have been offered paid internships/ job offers. (3/12/2019)

EXGR hosted the first Discover Tourism FAM in November with 8 students and 2 faculty attending from Morehouse College in Atlanta GA. (11/8/2018)

GRPS, Industry leaders announce new High School Academy of Hospitality & Tourism. (10/15/2018)

Experience Grand Rapids added Angela Nelson to their leadership team. Angela will guide EXGR as they fulfill their organizational Diversity Value Statement:

To lead the hospitality and tourism industry in creating a community culture that promotes inclusivity and belonging.

Initially these efforts will focus on impacting a diverse and inclusive industry workforce, enhancing multicultural visitor experiences, leveraging the competitive business advantage in each destination visitor market segment including conventions thereby positively impacting the economy.