- Steve Ohnsman
Van Andel Arena – Grand Rapids Griffins
Photos by Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Van Andel Arena 130 W Fulton St Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Year Opened: 1996
As Good as it Gets in Grand Rapids
Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan is a true gem and it is getting even better. The home of the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins is an excellent place to enjoy hockey as well as many top name entertainers.
Due to the close proximity to the parent club in Detroit, Griffin fans enjoy the chance to see future NHL players sharpening their skills and hoping to move 180 miles southeast to play in Little Caesars Arena.
Considering the population of Grand Rapids (second largest city in Michigan – metropolitan population is over 1,000,000), the number of choices to eat and drink in the downtown area is amazing. A wide range of quality allows everyone to find their niche.
The city has been named “Best Beer Town” by national publications, morphing from its former “Furniture City” designation. Thanks to Amway corporate leaders, the downtown has revitalized itself in recent years. It is a true destination location for travelers.
Food & Beverage 4
Hockey fans can find copious food and drink options at Van Andel. On the lower level, the Intermission Restaurant and Bar is a full-service dining room open two hours before the puck drops. A wide range of concession stands offer the traditional options such as $4.50 hot dogs, $7.25 nachos, $5.50 cheeseburgers, $5 brats and combo baskets.
One cost saver is the $10.50 refill cup with unlimited refills of soft drinks during the event. Pepsi products are offered along with national and craft beers from $7.25 to $9.25. Cocktails vary from $6.50 margaritas to $10 for the whiskey plum, while wine goes for $6.50 to $10.
The Valley Cattle and Fry Co. stand provides burgers along with chicken wings and tenders. Peppino’s has a whole pizza for $25 and slices for $4.50. The Fulton Bar features Hudsonville Ice Cream options. Various Mexican food items are “custom made” as the customer chooses what goes into his/her burrito; I really enjoyed this opportunity.
Van Andel Arena opened in 1996 and has played a significant role in downtown revitalization. Sports, concerts, and plays are of high quality for all audiences. An HD video board on the south wall is a great addition as replays and lots of fan shots are shown.
An LED lighting system was installed in 2016, along with free public Wi-Fi. There are apps available for the Griffins and Van Andel Arena that link the customer. The arena displays Calder Cup Championship banners honoring the 2013 and 2017 teams.
The sight lines from the seats are quite good. However, the seats are relatively narrow by today’s standards that provide moderate leg room; all seats are padded and have cup holders. The seating areas and ceiling have a dark motif; the new lighting draws the fans’ eyes to the rink. Short stairways lead from the seats to the main concourse.
Team mascot Griff the Griffin is a lively character who roars around the ice before the puck drops and meets/greets the fans.
The variety of choices available in downtown “GR” is great for hockey fans and event goers. Highly rated restaurants within easy walking distance include San Chez Bistro for all three meals serving small plates/tapas, Wheelhouse Kitchen for contemporary dining and the Bistro Bella Vista offers Italian fare. The Grand Rapids “BOB” (Big Old Building) has several dining and drinking alternatives in a lively atmosphere.
Nearby downtown establishments I have enjoyed are the Butcher’s Union on Bridge Street and The Chop House on Monroe.
Choosing a brewery in GR is a challenge: there are many high-quality options. Near the arena are Hop Cat and Grand Rapids Brewery Company. In the surrounding city areas, consider Founders Brewing, Mitten Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, and Railtown Brewing Company.
Attractions abound in and around GR: the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park on the east side are excellent, the Gerald R. Ford Museum just west of downtown honors our 38th President, and the Public Museum and Art Museum are also great choices.
Over the last five years, the Griffins’ average attendance is close to 8,000 which places them about #6 in the 31-team AHL. The team appears to do a very good job with group and family sales and they have added some suites. “The Corner Office” is a group area featuring food and drink along with luxury recliners.
One great policy is the ushers holding up signs asking fans to wait until a stop in the action before returning to their seats – this should happen at all parks in my opinion. Fans are given a free “Griffitti” program when they enter.
The fans are knowledgeable of the game and make noise for shots on goal, and the arena staff is very friendly and helpful as they welcome the fans.
Driving to Van Andel is quite convenient even though it is in the downtown area as two freeways have nearby exits. That said, fans should allow some time for parking and walking to the game. Parking lots/ramps are run by the city and cost $12 for events. Some metered street parking is available; if fans get to one of those spots at the right time, they could save some money. Fans enter the arena on the north side. Public transportation is widely available.
The arena concourse is a good size, yet can get a little tight with large crowds. Handicapped fans are accommodated well with elevators and many seating locations available.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets vary from $19-$40 at the gate; fans can save $3 per seat if purchased in advance. Check the team website and app for special offers; “4-pack” deals for family and the D-Zone are examples. The team offers lots of promotions/giveaways for most matches. Winning Wednesday events include free tickets if the team wins that night. Food and beverage pricing is typical for this level of play, and the variety is a plus.
One point for the active downtown scene which can be enjoyed before and after the game.
Another point for the excellent production provided by the Griffins staff throughout the game: excellent sound system and music; lively announcements; items dropped from the catwalks down to the fans (including a parachute drop with pizza boxes for free pizza). They make it an enjoyable experience.
One point for excellent and friendly customer service.
One point for the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame plaques throughout the entire concourse where they recognize players (including President Gerald Ford who played football at U of M), coaches and media favorites.
This is a great minor league hockey venue! Hockey fans might consider getting tickets for a weekend of fun: they offer a number of Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday games on the schedule, so fans could stay downtown do it up right! Even casual fans will enjoy a match and families are very well served.