GRAND RAPIDS – Mark Secchia recently moved back to his hometown of Grand Rapids and brought with him plans for a bocce-centric entertainment venue, including a bar and restaurant serving a healthy dose of Grand Rapids nostalgia .
The 50-year-old son of late businessman Peter Secchia purchased the former Riverside Fitness Center at 975 Ottawa Avenue NW in late March for $2.5 million. He plans to completely renovate the 50,000-square-foot building into a multi-purpose entertainment center called The Rec Room, which will feature five bocce courts, a restaurant, bar, private event space and indoor parking for 55 cars.
Integrated Architecture LLC of Grand Rapids is designing the $7.5 million project. Secchia plans to apply for brownfield and tax-increased financing incentives for the project, which targets a December 2023 start date for construction in 2024.
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Secchia told us that the bocce courts are of high quality and built by a team flown in from Italy Crane’s Grand Rapids Business.
The entertainment room will host boccia leagues Monday to Wednesday and Thursday to Sunday and the venue can be hired by companies and private parties. Similar to the bowling alley model, customers can walk in and play if the court is free, Secchia said.
“If you had a business in Grand Rapids right now, where would you go for events in the winter?” Sekiah said. “It’s a place where you can go and be active.”
In addition to the bocce court, the ground floor of the building will house indoor parking, a bar and a restaurant.
“The restaurant will be more or less focused on American comfort food, and we’ll try to add five to seven retro items to the menu from previous restaurants in the area,” Secchia said. “There are at least 8 restaurants that anyone over 40 will remember, and their (menu) items are cheese bread at Charley’s Crab, Mr. Fabulous Burger at Mr. Fables – all of these brands have interesting things going on in the past In. We wanted to bring that back a little bit.”
The development plans also called for a private event space for 2,000-2,500 people on the second floor, which was previously used as a large open gymnasium. Secchia wanted to host events similar to his father’s club, Tootsie Van Kelly’s, which operated at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel until the mid-1990s.
“That brand was started by my father in the ’70s,” says Secchia. “We’d like to have a Tootsie’s throwback on a Thursday, maybe once a month, and then set up a stage in the bocce area for something a little different.”
The goal is to attract residents of the Boardwalk apartments near Monroe Avenue, but for most, the rec room will be a destination, Secchia said.
“We want the city to expand the social area, so we’ll be the northernmost point in the area,” Secchia said. “It’s something we’re doing, which is that it’s easier to find parking around us than in the city centre.”
Designated social areas, also known as downtown refreshment areas, allow people to purchase specially marked beverages and transport them between businesses.
After a friend noticed the Riverside Fitness Center building, Sechhia said he “fell in love” with the two-story ceiling structure.
Following the closure of the Riverfront Fitness Center in 2002, several attempts at redevelopment of the building over the years were unsuccessful. Blue Bridge Ventures LLC CEO Jack Buchanan had planned to lease the building’s second floor to a health club operator in 2004. His wife, Sherry Buchanan, head of Core Fitness Holdings LLC, later plans to open a wellness center in the building, according to local media reports.
In addition, Spectrum Health (now Corewell Health) previously leased space for its occupational health center on the lower level of the building.
Secchia is considering developing his bocce ball concept in Shanghai, China, where he has lived for 21 years, as well as in Silicon Valley, California, which was already underway before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Secchia has started several companies in the 21 years she has lived in China, including Sherpa’s, a food delivery platform similar to DoorDash. Secchia grew the company to a team of about 500 employees and sold it to a group of venture capitalists about five years ago, he said.
Still, returning to Grand Rapids helps solidify his long-term plans.
“In the two years we’ve been back (in Grand Rapids), I’ve realized that’s where we want to put our roots,” Secchia said.
More Grand Rapids business from Crain:
Heritage Hill Victorian listed at $950,000 after conversion to single-family home
Honigman LLP Relocates, Expands Office in Downtown Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids gift box retailer Pack Elephant moving Sligh building
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