In the Heartside district of Grand Rapids, Michigan you can find Van Andel Arena, home of the Grand Rapids Griffins. Seating 10,834 for hockey games, Van Andel is a perfect place to see AHL hockey. The U-shaped seating makes this an ideal venue for concerts, and the venue has been the host to Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry in recent years.
The arena is named for the main benefactors Jay and Betty Van Andel. Both Van Andel Arena and its main tenant, the Grand Rapids Griffins, have the fingerprints of local corporate citizen, Amway all over it. A statue of Jay Van Andel stands in front of the arena, welcoming fans to his namesake venue.
The downtown location, with its numerous eateries and pubs and breweries is certainly part of the draw, but the team itself helps to draw West Michigander hockey fans. The Griffins are the AHL affiliate of the in-state Detroit Red Wings of the NHL. This creates the perfect hockey market for minor league play. The team is far enough away from Detroit (about 160 miles) that there is no competition at the Joe Louis Arena box office with the Wings, but the local interest is definitely steered towards the Detroit club, and fans revel in the opportunity to see the soon-to-be Red Wings.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are plenty of points of sale and pretty good quality as you amble around the Van Andel concourse looking for a bit to eat. Hot dogs ($3.75), brats ($4.50), cheeseburger ($5), and nachos ($4) are on offer as you might expect. Pizza from the Peppino's stand is well priced ($3.75) and pretty decent.
If you have a large hunger then you can find a half-pound burger ($7), jumbo hot dog ($5.75), or an order of boneless wings ($6.75). There is also a stand in the center of the concourse which serves squash bisque ($3), roasted turkey sandwiches ($9.50), and BBQ Pork Sundae ($7.50). This last item I didn't notice until I was reviewing pictures the day after my visit. I have no idea what a BBQ Pork Sundae is, but I must try it the next time I go to Van Andel Arena.
Draft beers will cost you $6.50, bottled soda $3.50 (Pepsi products), and bottled water is $3. There is a Tim Horton's stand where you can get coffee or hot chocolate if you are looking for something to warm up with. Dollar Beer Night on Fridays is a well-known and enjoyed promotion.
Lines are significant at the concession stands between periods, but mitigate quickly once the puck is in play. This is a testament to the passion of the fans more so than an inadequacy of the staffing to move people along, although it would make sense for the stands to ensure enough to handle the intermission rush.
Van Andel Arena offers average leg room and cupholders for all of the seats. There's pretty good pitch between the rows, so regardless of where you sit you can expect not to have another's noggin blocking your view. My seat recommendations would be for sections 207 or 208, so you are facing both benches, the Griffins center ice logo right side up, but are still high enough to have good perspective of the game play.
At the top of the U-shaped seating you'll find a video screen which offers replays and live game action. It's not HD, but at least you can see the goals, fights, and other critical plays. The center-hung scoreboard has a video screen that mostly features ads. Additionally, you can find the shots on goal, time outs, score, time, and period. Between the first and second levels of seating there is a ribbon board which offers additional advertising and messaging.
Lighting and sound are good, and in general the Griffins do a good job of capturing the attention of their fans both while the puck is in play and when there is a break in the action. Griff, the Griffin, does a fine job of making on-ice appearances as well as taking off the skates and making his way through the stands to interact with kids and other fans.
While the team presents an entertaining product, the focus is still squarely on hockey. The players on the ice are just a moment away from skating at the highest level of hockey on Earth, the NHL. You can expect to find good hockey whenever you go to a Grand Rapids Griffins game.
It doesn't get much better than the neighborhood that surrounds Van Andel Arena. There enough bars, restaurants, and museums to keep even season ticket holders busy for an entire season, much less a casual fan or someone following their favorite team on an away game.
For some great small plates, and eight house made beers head over to the B.O.B., and the bar called "Gilly's". Here you can order one of 20 tapas-style dishes, with an emphasis on seafood, and taste the locally made beers. They also have really friendly and inviting service.
Opened in 2012, you may also want to try the Grand Rapids Brewing Company, located next door to Van Andel Arena. They only had two of their own beers available when I visited most recently, but plan to expand their offerings. In the meantime, they offer 16 "guest taps" and also good food.
Down the block on Ionia you can find Hopcat, which Beer Advocate Magazine named the "third best beer bar in the world." That's high praise indeed. They also have tasty bar food including their "Killer mac n cheese" and "crack fries," so named because they are so addictive. As far as the beer goes, they have 48 taps and all of them flow with interesting beers.
If you want to get some culture during your trip to Grand Rapids, then keep in mind that this is 38th U.S. President Gerald Ford's hometown, and you can find the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum just north of Van Andel Arena. Consider also visiting the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), which always has interesting rotating collections.
If you need a hotel in the area, consider the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown for a good value, or the Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown for the best convenience, but at a higher per night price.
The Grand Rapids Griffins averaged 7,253 fans during the 2011-2012 season (6th in the AHL), which was fairly flat compared to the previous season (7,241). During the 2012-2013 season, with the NHL struggling through a lockout, the Griffins were averaging 6,633 at the time of my December visit (good for 5th in the league).
While attendance may be down somewhat, the fans are no less intelligent, which adds to the overall experience.
Grand Rapids is the second largest city in the state of Michigan, with a population of just below 200,000 according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Van Andel Arena can be found just to the east of U.S. 31 and just south of I-196, easily accessible from whichever direction you may be arriving from.
Parking can be found in nearby garages for $8-$9 for game day events, which is pretty reasonable for a mid-sized city like this. There is also street parking available and the meters are not enforced after 6pm. Meter parking is generally $1.50 per hour, so my advice is to arrive early enough to find a spot (between 4:30pm-5pm), pay off the meter until 6pm, and you're all set. Go enjoy downtown Grand Rapids and save some on parking.
Inside the arena, the single main concourse is roomy enough to handle the crowds. Restrooms are clean and also good sized.
Tickets go for as little as $14 for upper level seats and go as high as $32 on the boards. The Griffins do a good job of encouraging attendance with giveaways or specials on every game. I especially like the Winning Wednesdays, where if the team wins, you get a ticket to the next Wednesday game. In theory, during the 2012-2013 season, a fan could attend the November 7th Wednesday night game (which the team won), and continue going to each Wednesday night game all season long (6 additional games). It certainly gives fans all the more reason to cheer the team to victory.
Parking can be affordable if you are willing to arrive early, and food and beverage is probably just a tad high compared to the other area sporting events. Overall though, the experience lives up to the total price.
Griff the Griffin does a great job of mingling with the crowd and also making his presence known down on the ice.
The downtown area is one of the best you'll find in sports. Our scale does not adequately accommodate how great this neighborhood is. Come early when you go to a Griffins game and enjoy it.
In the concourse there are a few columns wrapped with the images of former players, including Pavol Demitra, who was killed along with 42 others when his Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) team Lokomotiv had its plane crash while traveling to a game in 2011. Demitra played only 42 games for the Griffins before being promoted to the St Louis Blues, but it is a warm remembrance of part of their hockey family who was taken too soon.
The Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame wraps throughout the concourse and fans will find many recognizable names including 38th U.S. President Gerald Ford, and Lou Gehrig predecessor Wally Pipp among others. Take a walk around the U-shaped concourse to see all of the plaques and short bios of the athletes' contributions in athletics and ties to the Grand Rapids area.
I had heard good things about the hockey experience when going to a game at Van Andel Arena, and it is certainly true that this is a great place to see minor league hockey. Consider looking over the schedule to find a weekend where the Griffs play on both Friday and Saturday, and take the time to enjoy the city. You'll have a fantastic time!
When you first arrive, it is difficult to believe that the Van Andel Arena is 15 years old. Located in the downtown Heartside District of Grand Rapids in Western Michigan, the Van Andel Arena still has that shiny new look to it. The south side entrance is full length green glass, which gives the building a modern look.
Named after the main benefactors Jay and Betty Van Andel, both the Van Andel Arena and its main tenant, the Grand Rapids Griffins, have the fingerprints of local corporate citizen, Amway all over it. Jay Van Andel and his partner Rich DeVos (current owner of the Orlando Magic) founded Amway, and both were citizens of Grand Rapids, Michigan. They helped build a sparkling downtown. The current owners of the Grand Rapids Griffins are the Amway sons, Dan DeVos and David Van Andel.
The Griffins have the perfect NHL affiliate situation. After being founded in 1996 as a member of the now defunct International Hockey League (IHL), the Griffins signed an affiliate agreement with the Ottawa Senators. After the merger of the IHL into the American Hockey League (AHL), the Griffins signed an affiliate agreement with the Detroit Red Wings. The geographic proximity to Detroit is perfect for the Griffins, who have become one of the model franchises of the AHL. Grand Rapids is close enough to Detroit so that the locals still care about the parent club, but far enough away that they don't compete with the NHL.
There is not a bad thing I have to say about Van Andel, I spent almost 10 years as a season ticket holder for the Griffins team and they continually work to upgrade and make things better, they added the ring boards this past season which really make things great.
If you love hockey, then any AHL experience is probably a good one. If you love beer, then a trip to the Founders Brewing Company during your visit to Van Andel is an absolute must. Add the two together and you're sure to have a good time.
This arena is an extremely classy establishment. I have seen Griffins hockey, Rampage football, Globetrotters basketball, and several concerts at this venue. It's always clean, seating and sightlines are good, concessions are above average, and the restrooms are well placed. The surrounding neighborhood has multiple options for food and drinks and parking is easy.
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