What do Houdini, Liza Minnelli and Barbie all have in common? No, this isn’t a mystifying riddle, but, in fact, all puzzle pieces that led to the community space that is Studio Park in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.
Made up of a diverse array of restaurants, local businesses, a music venue, and a nine-theater cinema at the center of it all, Studio Park is a gathering space for the local community to enjoy all that the city has to offer.
The story starts back in 1944, when Jack Loeks opened the “Foto News” theater on Pearl Street in downtown Grand Rapids, showing wartime newsreels. The theater was originally known as the “Powers Opera House” where Houdini once performed on stage. Jack was a part of litigation that helped break up the film studio monopoly preventing independent theatres from showing Hollywood films. He then turned the theatre into renamed Midtown Theatre, where it flourished until it’s closing in 1972. The last movie to run was Cabaret with Liza Minnelli.
Seventy-nine years later in 2023, Loeks’ cinema company is still thriving and family-owned, with J.D. Loeks, Jack’s grandson, now the president of Studio C. The founders of Studio Park, Studio C is an entertainment company most known for their Celebration Cinema movie theaters across western and central Michigan.
The seed of bringing a movie theatre back into downtown Grand Rapids was planted more than a decade ago and one that Studio C has worked hard to concept and plan up until it’s opening in 2019.
“If anyone was going to do a theater downtown, it felt like it should be us,” said Emily Loeks, Director of Public Relations and Community Affairs. “There are certain tipping points for the scale of the city when people are living downtown. Arts organizations are becoming more viable, and we just started to hit that ten years ago. We wanted to make a theater work for a long time, but wanted to make sure it could be successful.”
Rather than just a stand-alone theater project, Studio Park was treated as a carefully orchestrated eco-system of integrated businesses from the very beginning in order to be a thriving part of the city. It’s no accident that the theater is surrounded by office space, hotels and a density of living arrangements, retail, and parking. Every element supports each other to be that much healthier and poised for success.
The Celebration Cinema Studio Park opened in the fall of 2019 and was quickly followed by One Twenty-Three Tavern and Midtown Music Venue— an intimate and unique venue (the name a nod to their history with the Midtown Theatre).
Midtown Music started with a vision about two years before opening at Studio Park, as a live music experience to add to the already vibrant and expanding live music scene in Grand Rapids.
“Between an arena, theatres, large performance halls, and live music clubs we were excited to create an intimate and quality seated venue in downtown Grand Rapids with top notch audio, design, and service that caters to the performer for the audience to “listen,” notes Quinn Matthews, Director of Music and Programming at Studio Park.
With a relaunch post pandemic, the Studio Park music scene has grown to include outdoor Listening Lawn concerts in the summer as well as expanded indoor programming with Midtown.
“Our Midtown live performances include everything from Jazz, Folk, Singer songwriters, to full band rock shows as well as comedy, improv, theatre, spoken word, and more!” Matthews said.
The wide range of music is an intentional choice to welcome everyone into downtown.
“We’ve hosted acts from Los Lobos, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and The Verve Pipe to comedy from Pauly Shore, Tim Meadows and many, many more,” said Matthews. “Our outdoor Listening Lawn series has brought Indigo Girls, Steve Earle, The Crane Wives and many other exciting acts to our now 800 capacity outdoor space.”
One thing that stands apart in the undernotes of everything Studio Park does is its emphasis on community, not only for their own space, but to welcome more folks into downtown Grand Rapids.
“We’re about gathering people,” Emily notes. “How do you make downtown feel inviting and accessible to everyone and remove barriers to entry? That’s what we wanted to do.”
With four hours of free parking in the garage at Studio Park with the purchase of a movie ticket or a bill at One Twenty-Three Tavern, the focus was to make coming downtown super navigable.
The Celebration Cinema in Studio Park has seen increasing traffic and a return to resilience post-COVID, helped by this summer’s Barbie and Oppenheimer hype. With heated recliners and in-theater food delivery, the movie-going experience continues to be elevated and see excitement again as an irreplaceable destination.
One Twenty-Three Tavern, again a throwback to the past address of Midtown Theatre at 123 Pearl St., is a familiar-yet-elevated dining spot within Studio Park. With a mix of favorite dishes done with an incredible flair, stop in for Meatloaf Monday, Burger Nights, delicious desserts, top-tier cocktails and more. For special occasions, reserve their fireside Chef’s table for a unique dining menu curated for eight to twelve guests.
A part of Studio Park’s charm is the outdoor Listening Lawn piazza, a community space where you can find concerts, movies on the lawn and other events filling the space.
On the exterior perimeter are more dining options, including staple diner Leo’s Coney Island, Elsa’s for fro-yo and frozen treats, and newly opened Caribbean Bite, bringing authentic Puerto Rican and Dominican flavors to the area, with plates like plantains, tacos, and empanadas that prioritize locally sourced ingredients.
Residing in the corner retail spot is Arts Marketplace, a non-profit which micro-leases space to local creatives, with a focus on women and minority-owned businesses. A shared space with goods from over 40 makers, Arts Marketplace serves to remove start-up barriers and allow for scale, long-term success, and profitability. New tenants have opportunities to seek support with programming, retail displays or in-store activities to improve their marketing and reach.
In the mood for a workout? Also housed within the businesses at Studio Park is Funky Buddha Yoga, hosting hot yoga classes in their studio and occasionally outdoors on the piazza lawn.
Everything that Studio Park entails makes it hard to imagine ever needing to leave. And indeed, above the retail space sits the 106-unit Studio Park Lofts, with studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments furnished with high-end touches and of course, a front row seat to all the action.
With the majority of these units filled, Studio C has its sights set on under-construction Studio Park Tower, a new apartment and condo space built on top of the six-story parking garage, set to open in Fall 2024.
With 165 apartment units, 22 condo units and 22 stories high, the building is sure to boast some of the best views of Grand Rapids. Planned amenities include a competition-length indoor pool, with retractable walls to a rooftop deck for all season enjoyment, pickleball courts and top of the line finishes to make up some of the most covetable living space downtown.
The possibilities of Studio Park’s evolution have only just begun.
“This place was designed as place of connectivity and creation. I don’t know all the ways it will take shape, but we feel confident in the design,” Emily says. “It’s a huge project but you don’t feel that when you walk into it. We designed it at personal scale. It’s designed for people and connectivity. We’re able to dive into activation and collaboration; it will continue to change and unfold to suit the changing city.”
So, what’s next? The options seem endless in the ever evolving, beating heart of downtown Grand Rapids. But one thing is for sure—Studio Park will be around to see the show.