Frederik Meijer Gardens continue to honor ‘Legacy of Love’ with expansion


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Mary Dupuis, Arts & Entertainment Editor

In 1999, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculptural Park welcomed 207,000 visitors. 17 years later, in 2016, Meijer Gardens had 750,000 visitors tour their grounds. 

Following this 262% increase in visitors, Meijer Gardens projected the annual guest attendance in the coming years to be between 1.2 to 1.5 million people. 

To best accommodate this ever-growing number of visitors, Meijer Gardens began their “Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love” Capital Campaign in 2017. 

To begin the expansion vision, the Board of Directors for Meijer Gardens participated in a master planning process to address specific facility needs to continue to accommodate visitors. Outside assistance from Progressive AE and Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. also aided in this process. 

Specific criteria for the expansion was also laid out during this time, such as: creating LEED-certified and architecturally significant space; adding parking capacity and improving vehicle movement; continuing to honor Fred and Lena Meijer and the donors and furthering Meijer Gardens’ mission to promote the enjoyment of the gardens and the art. 

With these guidelines in mind, 10 new projects were announced. Those projects being: A new Welcome Center; a new Covenant Learning Center; a new Cook Transportation Center, an expanded and upgraded Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheatre; a new sculpture garden entry plaza; an expanded and upgraded existing building, the Scenic Corridor; a new outdoor picnic pavilion; expanded and accessible parking and urban gardens; gardens and sculpture changes and additions and a new Endowment Fund. 

The projected total costs of all of these renovations added up to about $115 million, and with support from thousands of local donors and the Meijer family, the target goal was not only met but exceeded, before the expansion began. 

As of today, the catering kitchen, Cook Transportation Center, Amphitheatre, Covenant Learning Center, Padnos Rooftop Sculpture Garden, and the majority of the Welcome Center are complete. 

The Director of Communications at Meijer Gardens, John VanderHaagen, said the COVID-19 pandemic did not have much of an impact on the progression of the expansion projects. In fact, the new space created by the expansions came just in time to aid in social distancing measures. 

“We’ve had a great response from our visitors so far,” VanderHaagen said. “We kind of lucked out in that we were expanding just as the pandemic provided a need for more space for physical distancing and widening things out in our hallways, so, really, it happened at a great time…We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback and comments from our members and visitors. ”

VanderHaagen said he is particularly excited for the next project, the Garden Pavilion Room in the Welcome Center, to be finished this November. 

“(The Garden Pavilion Room) contains a huge four-wall marble sculpture by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa that’s truly stunning,” VanderHaagen said. “There’s nothing else like it that I’ve ever seen in any museum that I’ve visited. The room itself is gorgeous. The architects bring light into the room through three large portal skylights at the top so each minute of each day the light hits the sculpture differently.”

He said the expansions have helped to continue to establish the Meijer Gardens as a significant destination. 

“(The expansion) really reinforces our role as a cultural institution not only in West Michigan but in the midwest in the United States,” VanderHaagen said. “We’re fortunate enough to be the second most visited tourist spot in Michigan behind only the Henry Ford Museum in the Detroit area. We’re really a world-class cultural organization. Our collection, I always like to say, is ‘An art history book come to life.’”

All in all, the main goal for the expansion set by Meijer Gardens has been to continue to honor the “Legacy of love led by Frederik and Lena Meijer. VanderHaagen said so far, they have done just that. 

“It’s a perfect way to continue what Fred wanted to do, which was bring joy to peoples’ lives, and to let his sculpture collection be enjoyed by the community. It really expands on Lena’s love of flowers and horticulture,” VanderHaagen said. “Everything they did was for the community.”

Expansion is still underway, with the expected completion of the last project by 2023.