History

Timeline

 

1826- Louis Campau builds two log cabins on the site and opened a trading post.

 

1890s- GR is a leading convention city. State and national groups conduct conventions in GR because of convenient hotel accommodations and later because of the proximity to Civic Auditorium.

 

1902- Interurban train system on the site linking GR to Grand Haven, Muskegon and Holland.

 

1933- Civic Auditorium is built.

 

1950s-Ed Ward Frey, Fredrick Meijer philanthropy help development of lower Monroe Area. One reason for the suburban growth is the development of a highway network.

 

Early 60’s- Those looking for recreation and entertainment look to the suburbs. Fourty-four acres of land purchased for the urban renewal project (Grand Rapids’
Renaissance, Phase I) w/ Union Bank, Old Kent, MI Consolidated Gas Co. and GR
Press pledging development alongside to bring people back to the city.

 

1965- Mayor Chris Sonneveldt forms Cultural Development Study Committee to develop public/private cultural activities and growth. The need for an enlarged auditorium/music hall facility “was the first thing we talked about,” he said. Mary Ann Keeler offers $500,000 for a new auditorium a full decade the big fundraising campaign for DeVos Hall begins.

 

1968- Concern grows over the “lag” in Grand Rapids’ convention business. The Civic Auditorium Board of Control began to include a new auditorium in convention
center expansion plans by passing a resolution that the building location be in
the vicinity of the Civic Auditorium.

 

1969- City Commission passes a resolution to begin funding and subsequent construction of such an addition to the Civic Auditorium. It is proved that over 100 auditorium rentals had to be turned down because the one was already in use.

 

Early 70’s- Elections change direction of plans. The next several years saw other studies being conducted with many variations in proposals. At one point, the performing arts auditorium was completely deleted. Mary Ann Keeler spent these next years keeping the issue of a need for an auditorium alive. Feasibility plans for the Civic Center expansion continues.

 

By 1970, many cities (Kalamazoo, Saginaw, Detroit, Muskegon, Lansing) have modernized/improved convention facilities. “What began as a need of the various art groups and promoters…turned out to be a necessity to the Civic Auditorium Convention Complex if it were going to retain its leadership in attracting conventions.

 

1971- City Commission resolves and supports expansion of convention center on east bank of river to increase city’s share of regional and state conventions to aid in downtown revitalization.

 

1972- The Wold, Bowers, and Shane consultants prepare a $23 million expansion plan for Downtown Riverfront Development Steering Committee. The recommendations include an expansion of exhibit facilities, a 2,800 seat auditorium, pedestrian walkways and bridges. However, once put to voters, the millage was defeated by 7,617 votes.

Carl Eschels, chairman of the steering committee, feels “there was a general lack of understanding of the project and its overall value…”

 

Mid-Seventies- Eventually, after much deliberation between committees
and private groups concerning funding for a proposed sports arena that affected
the monies going into the expansion, a united committee recommended the
convention/entertainment center concept. Robert Pew was named chairman of the
design committee.

 

A recession spawns federal programs aimed at dealing with unemployment. This presents an opportunity for funding a convention center project, which would birth jobs.

 

A $3.2 million grant was obtained from the Economic Development Agency. Later, a Public Works Commission grants $5 million for the heavily debated auditorium portion. Other funding sources to reach the $22.6 million total costs are generated by the Kent County hotel-motel tax, revenues from the parking authority, and $5 million in private donations.

 

1975- The Civic Auditorium is renamed the George Welsh Civic Auditorium (name shortened to Welsh Auditorium over time).

 

1976- Richard and Helen DeVos and John and Edith Blodgett pledge $600,000 to the project to follow Mary Ann Keeler’s $500,000 designation from the Miner S. Keeler Fund. Though these pledges have been made, the official fundraising campaign doesn’t begin until 1977.

 

1977- Phase I of the campaign results in over $4.1 million in funds raised from 82 individuals, corporations and foundations including the Amway Corp. and Steelcase. While Phase II solicited from a prospect list, Phase III successfully attracted support form the public. Citizens from all walks of life and ethnic background contributed to the Center.

 

Early 1980- The new convention/entertainment complex is officially named “Grand
Center.”

 

Summer 1980- Striking city employees picket outside the construction site, briefly halting Grand  Center construction. The Joint City-County Building Authority has agreed to spend up to $150,000 in overtime wages to complete construction.

 

Fall 1980- Construction is completed. Celebration on the Grand begins a week full of events in October to mark the opening of the Grand Center. Celebration of the Arts  (Symphony, Opera, Ballet) share opening of DeVos Hall. $5 million in contributions covered the cost of construction; donations reached $6 million total. First time in Grand Rapids fundraising history on a grand scale that goal had been reached and surpassed.

 

1988- A study, urged by the GR Symphony, begins on the DeVos Hall acoustics—the beginnings of what would end up to be the first renovation project for the performance hall.

 

1994- DeVos Hall undergoes $1.1 million renovation project in August to improve sound quality and space.

 

2002- Newly renamed, DeVos Performance Hall, reopens after a 14th-month renovation project, doubling the size of the outer lobby along Monroe Ave.

 

2003- President Bush gives his first speech following that year’s State of the Union Speech at DeVos Performance Hall.

 

2004- DeVos Performance Hall undergoes renovations to modernize the now-24-year-old auditorium—more comfortable/patron-friendly. After the $5 million project, the hall reopens in September.

 

2010- DeVos Performance Hall celebrates 30 years of entertaining West Michigan!