“It reminds me of a quote we’ve heard a lot of the last few years — ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,’” joked Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb when she recalled a first meeting with Steve Loftis to consider a renovation project at the stadium. “We started this long, long ago, a day about 5 years ago when I got a call from Steve, who said, ‘Let’s go take a walk down by the bleachers and take a look. Maybe it’s time for something new down there.’”
That “something new” is now open to the public — a completely transformed Waterfront Stadium. Old wooden bleachers gave way to sprawling tiered lawn seating, creating a much more open and inviting park-like setting.
“People are amazed at how open it is and how simple it is,“ said Loftis, the committee chair for the project. “We wanted to keep it uncluttered, not have a lot of buildings and such, and I think that’s been accomplished. We kept it simple, open, green, usable.”
The new stadium project came with a price tag topping $3 million. While a portion of that money came from a Michigan Department of Natural Resources grant and support from Fifth Third Bank, the majority came via a surprise gift from the Grand Haven Community Foundation via the estate of local philanthropist Lynne Sherwood.
Sherwood died in January 2016, but her legacy in Grand Haven is enduring thanks to her generosity.
“Lynne Sherwood was certainly one of our community’s most generous philanthropists,” said Holly Johnson, president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. “Her bequest throughout the Community Foundation will forever have a broad and positive impact on this community. Lynne’s death still continues to be painful, and every time I’ve spoken about Waterfront Stadium, I use the word bittersweet because that’s truly how we feel about this.”
Johnson said the $3 million gift is the largest community betterment grant the Community Foundation has ever made.
“It’s truly an investment in this community,” she said. “This space will always be a lasting tribute to Lynne and her love of our community, and an inspiring reminder to all of us to always live generously.”
Nelson Jacobson, president of JSJ Corporation, joked that Sherwood, among her many admirable traits, was “exceedingly humble and private.”
“And the idea that we’re standing here is not only bittersweet, but the idea that we’re opening a very, very public place, explicitly named after her, is more ironic than bittersweet,” he said. “She would be very happy.”
Thursday’s ribbon cutting kicked off with the posting of the colors by the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety Honor Guard.
Alisha McCaleb Bakale — daughter of Mayor McCaleb — sang the national anthem before a series of people took to the podium, including McCaleb, State Rep. Jim Lilly, Scott Lubbers of Fifth Third Bank, Tamara Jorkasky of the Michigan DNR, Loftis, Johnson and Jacobson.
Johnson and Jacobson then unveiled a 7-foot-tall monument at the entrance to the stadium, which pays tribute to Sherwood’s contributions.
McCaleb officially cut the ribbon to open the stadium, and hundreds of onlookers streamed into the newly opened venue to enjoy lunch.
Chris Wiser and Melanie Marod became the first to take to the new stage in the far northwest corner of the space.
Jorkasky, a grant coordinator for the DNR, marveled at the layout and design of the new stadium.
“When I first came out, it was like coming to a high school football stadium,” she said. “Now it’s opened up. It invites people to come in, sit down, look at the water, have a picnic, watch the boats go by.
“This is what brings people here and keeps people here.”