Home Featured News Downtown Grand Rapids to Revitalize Calder Plaza, 50 years after its Opening

Downtown Grand Rapids to Revitalize Calder Plaza, 50 years after its Opening

The La Grand Vitesse, commonly referred to as "The Calder," sits in the middle of Calder Plaza between Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue NW (Molly Mills/The Collegiate).

Grand Rapids’ Calder Plaza is being redesigned to create a more accessible area for the public. The open space surrounding the widely recognizable big red sculpture is getting a face lift for the first time in 50 years. 

Formally known as Vandenberg Center, the plaza opened in 1969 with the potential to be a centerpiece for downtown Grand Rapids. Commonly referred to as “The Calder,” the La Grande Vitesse, the large bright red sculpture at the center of the plaza was commissioned by the city in 1967 for Alexander Calder to create. Though it ultimately did not end up serving as a relief to the flaws of urban renewal of the 1960s, let alone a downtown centerpiece, the La Grande Vitesse has served as a symbol of the city for quite some time.

Top: The view looking east up Michigan Street at Monroe Avenue NW taken around 1920. (Courtesy Photo | Grand Rapids Public Museum) Bottom: The modern photo shows the same approximate location Nov. 4, 2013. MLive reporter Garret Ellison is seen walking across the street for a recreation of the vintage picture. Since the 2013 photo, the former Grand Rapids Press building pictured on the far left was torn down and replaced by the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center.

Now in its 50th year connecting the City and County buildings between Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue, the proposed project will be the first major renovation to this community space. Driven primarily by community input and feedback in various focus group discussions dating back to the summer of 2016, Calder Plaza is on the verge of its biggest redesign to date.

GR Forward, the community-driven plan facilitated by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., became a finalized plan in late 2015. It was discussion among the community, through GR Forward, that propelled the new plan for Calder Plaza.

“GR Forward was created in 2015, and the plan for the revitalized plaza was originally conceived then,” said Mark Miller, Managing Director of Planning and Design for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. “The 2016 master-plan was a more in-depth plan.”

In July 2017, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. presented their final draft of the master plan for the revitalization of Calder Plaza to Grand Rapids City Commission.

DGRI presented the preliminary design for phase 1 improvements to the Downtown Development Authority in November 2018. As reported by MLive, the estimated cost for phase 1 is around $5.9 million. The full design could potentially cost up to $25 million, however the construction value has not yet officially been determined. 

Among the project goals for the plaza, DGRI hopes to honor the plaza’s cultural heritage. When asked about this, Miller emphasized the history and origin of the area, “A lot of cultural aspects really relate to the original design.”

Since the redesign is “ultimately going to be about adding stuff,” according to Miller, the GR Forward community emphasized more places to sit, greenery and activities for the plaza.

A new pop-up performance stage, sun umbrellas and an urban living room environment that would include cushioned seating and hammocks are all among the ideas for DGRI’s phase 1 of the redesign that have been brought forth by GR Forward. To help increase the accessibility of the area, Miller mentioned how they would connect the ground level with the parking deck.

“There will be an elevator in the pavillion that will go down to all levels of the parking deck, and will also be able to reach the plaza ground-level.”

With increased accessibility, as well as the potential for the plaza to be activated during all four seasons, DGRI and GR Forward look to revitalize what was once supposed to be the centerpiece of downtown.