411 on the fountain

When the sights and sounds of the Grand Haven Musical Fountain begin to fill the night sky, you’ll know that summer is just around the corner.
Alex Doty
May 3, 2014

Crews have prepped the fountain for another year and opening weekend of shows, with the second performance at 10 tonight.

“It has been a lot of work this spring,” Grand Haven Facilities Manager Dan Vivian said. “It should be good to go.”

Last year, the fountain received new plumbing and LED lights to mark a half-century of dazzling waterfront spectators.

“Last year, we celebrated the 50th year, and that’s kind of carrying over to this year because the upgrades are continuing,” Musical Fountain Board Member Marci Cisneros said.

To continue the improvements this offseason, the fountain’s computerized control systems were redone.

“We have been testing that, troubleshooting and working out the bugs,” Vivian said. “That has been the bulk of the work this spring.”

There’s been plenty of support in getting the new technology put into place. Grand Valley State University engineering students installed the new programming that operates the fountain. 

According to Cisneros and Vivian, GVSU adjunct engineering professor Terry Stevens was contacted by the city to help retrofit the fountain. It was Stevens who performed the first fountain upgrade 30 years ago.

GVSU students worked to create a new control panel that allows old songs and functionality to be used in a new system.

“There was dozens and dozens — probably hundreds — of hours spent by volunteers to program it and test it,” Vivian said.

To read the whole story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.



The fountain is much more lively this year. On top of the new PLC, it also has a brand new playback server that I built specifically for what we need it to do, and high-end DAC (digital to analog converter; essentially a sound card) with 2vrms outputs as opposed to the amplified, and dirty audio signal that used to be sent to the amps through the headphone output on the old system.

Other updates for this year are the brand new intro and closing (as well as waterfront stadium music), MANY new songs that Ryan Strayhorn and myself have been working on over the winter, including a few fully themed shows, and the fact that now the music is perfectly in sync with the lighting and water (visitors used to hear the music a half second later than water and lighting changes, causing the whole show to look out of sync).

The water reacts much faster, the sweeps move much faster and more fluidly, and the lighting looks better.

Operations-wise, let me just say that last night was the most stress-free night we have had in a long time. Everything worked great!


up ?


There was a fundraiser last year for the fountain upgrades, organized by Ken Formsma.

The PLC was donated by Rockwell Automation, and the programming/software rewrites are projects taken on by Grand Valley State University to offer their students hands-on experience with a real-world complex set of equipment.

Shows (late 2012 and newer) are programmed by myself and Ryan Strayhorn of ACP Entertainment on volunteer time.

Both city staff and volunteers do much of the upkeep on the fountain with local companies brought in when needed.

Sure, there is money going into the thing, but the majority of the work is being done by those (both city staff and volunteers) with a strong passion to make our town a bit better and provide higher quality family-friendly entertainment for both our Guests and locals.

Not sure what the deal is with fireworks fundraising, but I am sure there has to be people out there who would love to help out.


Thanks for the hard work Jason! You probably don't get told enough how much its appreciated.

Real estate maven

Please allow me to echo Riverside Jason. I've never had the pleasure of meeting you but I know Ken Formsma well. Guys (and ladies) like the 2 of you go a long wAy toward making GH the special place that it is and a place I'm proud to call home. Thank you!!!


Isn't it time for the Musical Fountain to be replaced? This is like Tulip Time in Holland and the Coast Guard Festival - same old same old year after year something new needs to make this area vibrant again and make people actually want to come through the area when the new bypass is in place, people will come to Holland or Grand Haven to refuel or use the restrooms at local establishments and move on - the cities are stagnant. I remember how long it took Grand Haven or the powers that be to remove the old Oberg plant. The Tri-Cities and West Michigan needs major renovations to make it a fun place to be again. Like Davenport University says, Reinvent U, West Michigan needs to be Reinvented.


Yah, lets get rid of our beaches too, tear down the tip-a-few, and bulldoze Dewey Hill into the harbor. We need something new and vibrant. This city is only stagnant in your mind. Perhaps it is YOU that needs renovating. (ie) renewal, for you progressives out there. I tell you what, I’ll meet you at Home Depot to buy you a belt sander or two then, I’ll pay for your lodging out in Rapid City SD for up 9 years as you sand off the faces on Mt. Rushmore. This relic has been there far too long, as well. For your home work tonight, I want you to research traditions, family values, and community involvement and report back to us by Wednesday.


you proved my theory dyankee - Grand Haven and the people are so set in their ways they are afraid of change and renovation to keep things fresh or a new look on things. A teacher once told me that nothing is permanent but change - not in Grand Haven though - the last big changes were the opening of Grand Landing, Home Depot and when the Meijer store relocated to the south side of Grand Haven. Look at the time it took for all these to happen almost 20 years or more. That's new and exciting?


You say renovate, yet they did recently renovate the fountain. New lights, updated controller, newer music and better shows. I'm always amazed at how many people stop and watch the fountain. It defines GH, what's wrong with that? It's easy to say its outdated etc, but not so easy to come up with a replacement. Ninja660, what would you propose we replace it with?


Yep, essentially everything at the fountain with exception of half the plumbing, pumps, and valves is brand new.

Another commentor mentioned it should mimic the Bellagio... I recently interviewed with the company behind that, and many of the other 'newer' fountains, and let me just say, if the city were to put something like that in, the taxpayers would NOT be happy. Not only would you have to deal with the DEQ/EPA, but you would be looking at a bill that would hover around 70-million or more. On top of that, all the newer fountains being installed are all basically the same; ours is unique in that it has several different formations, as well as more than a single color (the exception is Disney's World of Color: http://www.youtube.com/watch?app... , which simply blows all other fountains away).

The fountain is MUCH more responsive this year, and new programs are rapidly being made to take advantage of the new speed and new features of the fountain. The music is being updated to current times (spanning all genres, but all the new stuff is upbeat), and much more attention is being paid to the fine details in the choreography. In fact, people may notice the fountain running silently many nights after the show; that is us testing and making fine adjustments to the choreography to make sure everything is spot-on for when that show is released for public viewing. We literally play the same song over and over, adjusting individual commands by as little as 1/10 second to get it perfect so that our Guests have the best possible show.

The naysayers need to come see the improved fountain for themselves.

EDIT: I will also add, there are several new functions that the fountain can do now (particularly in the 'sweeps') that will start making their way into performances once those features are extensively bug tested.


Ninja660, you are confusing change and renovation (ie) fresh look with respecting and embracing traditions. (family or landmarks.) I agree with you that new business growth like Grand Landings, Home Depot, a new High School, the new Meijers, don’t forget Walmart (I know local unions haven’t) and various strip malls do indeed, give Grand Haven a fresh look and it does keep things exciting, as you say.

However, do you know why it took 20 years for these new developments to come to fruition? It had nothing to do with the people rejecting these changes or being set in their ways. A majority of these lengthy delays were due to Local, State, and Federal regulations. In other words, it was Government that was standing in the way!

Have you ever heard of the DEQ, EPA, Environmental Health, Sierra Club, and various zoning administrations? Don’t get me started because I can feel my neck getting warm already so, I’m assuming you can take it from here and will appreciate my enlightenment of this teachable moment.

You don’t throw out long standing and functional traditions such as the Musical Fountains, Tip-a-Few, Fricano’s, Bilmar, The Pronto Pup Stand, Clover Bar, the Boardwalk, the Cat Walk, Coast Guard Festival, Christmas, Columbus Day, and the Pledge of Allegiance so, you can see a “Now Open” sign on a Tim Horton’s Shoppe.

Someday, you will have your own family and you will want to enjoy the same things you did in growing up in this cool town. Another teacher once told me, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone. Keep that in mind before taking a hatchet to the musical fountains. If the old businesses are profitable and offer a nice product, service, or experience then, leave them the hell alone and move on to the next block to secure a venue for your new & exciting stuff.

Actually, about 13 miles North of here is a community that could use your energy in promoting “change and renovation.” Now there is something us “set in our way” nay sayers can support.

Beach Gal

I agree with you, ninja. It is a relic from another time. It should either be totally revamped, a la the Bellagio, or it should be scrapped.


You know that Washington Monument out there in Washington, D.C.? That suckers been there for what? A couple hundred years? It's time to tear that thing down in build something new and vibrant and exciting. I've been to the Grand Canyon a few times, and every time I go, it's still that same old hole in the ground. We need to fill it in an build and amusement park or something that'll attract people. Oberg? Sheesh


Yup Oberg - that was an eyesore! always driving by it and seeing the broken windows - and remnants of it still remain if you go to Applebees in Grand Haven the rail tracks are still there on the side plus if you go under the bridge in Grand Haven part of the original roadway to crossing the old bridge is still there including the old RR crossing marks on the pavement as you come from Spring Lake or Ferrysburg under the bridge.


"Yup Oberg"??? Try Oldberg.


The fireworks and musical fountain was always special, thank you


I disagree with folks that they say Grand Haven needs a major make over and i think you are dreaming,The small town feel is what made this town great, a place to get away from the big city hussle, if you want to rebuild something, go somewhere else and build you dream land, In my opinion, i have lived here 65 years and seen a lot of changes to the point where this town do not feel like home, Good Luck


Grand Haven is a place that has become a tourist trap that thrives on old things. Its the fear of the unknown or something new that actually might make Grand Haven truly a "Grand Haven" once again.

Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on GrandHavenTribune.com? Create a new account today to get started.