GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Grand Rapids FC will join USL League Two for the 2021 season, but there could be even bigger things on the horizon for the region’s soccer community in the future, with a soccer-specific stadium with a capacity of up to 7,000 fans part of a proposal titled Grand Action 2.0.
The plan, which was unveiled on Monday, would expand on the original Grand Action plan which was founded in 1993 and created a series of private-public partnerships for projects including Van Andel Arena – an 11,005-seat venue that currently serves as the home to the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins – as well as DeVos Place and the city’s downtown market.
Included is the potential home for a professional soccer team, with John Katz, a consultant with Convention, Sports and Leisure International, envisioning an expanded space that would become a central hub for business and events for the city and region.
“This becomes a community gathering base 365 days a year, even winter events,” Katz told WoodTV.com’s Joe LaFurgey. “If we can achieve that, which we think we can, that creates a tremendous amount of vibrancy. It accommodates demand that exists in the market that’s currently unaccommodated.”
The plans have drawn the attention of leaders at USL, for which Grand Rapids has long been an attractive market for expansion in its professional divisions. With an estimated metropolitan population of just over 1 million people, the city would add to the Championship’s Midwest profile, sitting just over 250 miles north of Indianapolis, home of Indy Eleven.
“There’s a lot of reasons to be really bullish on the future of USL in Grand Rapids,” USL Vice President of Communications & Public Relations Ryan Madden told LaFurgey. “We, for many years, have viewed Grand Rapids as a community that would make for a very, very special fit for a USL Championship club.”
One of those reasons is the strong soccer community that Grand Rapids FC has helped build. Founded in 2014, the club averaged 4,509 fans in its 2015 season in the Grand Lakes Premier League and has maintained a strong following since. Another is the work of the likes of Josh Sheldon, Executive Director of Midwest United FC, who alongside the entirety of the USL League Two club has helped to put west Michigan soccer on the map with a reputation of excellence.
The biggest though, perhaps, is the potential progress of Grand Action 2.0, which has hired design firm Populous – the company which has previously brought to life Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park, Orlando City SC’s Exploria Stadium, and Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur’s new home stadium – alongside local firm Progressive AE to begin the process of gaining community input that could guide development in the city’s Market Avenue corridor.
Those two ingredients and the right ownership group could provide a perfect combination for an expansion Championship club.
“The future is really bright,” Madden added. “It could happen sooner than later.”