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Game On for Bocce in Grand Rapids

By Kathy Gibbons

The future location of Silva in Grand Rapids || Courtesy of Mark Secchia

Mark Secchia and his dad—the late Michigan businessman, philanthropist, and U.S. Ambassador to Italy, Peter Secchia—won a Sons of Italy downtown Grand Rapids bocce tournament when he was a kid. At least, they would tell people they did. Secchia says they may have actually come in second place.

Regardless, they enjoyed playing the game over the years, and Secchia has long had a business plan to open a bocce facility. It didn’t seem feasible when he and his family lived in Shanghai, China, for two decades. When he got ready to pull the trigger during the six years they subsequently spent in Silicon Valley, California, COVID-19 came along and put an end to that. But, after returning home to Grand Rapids two years ago, Secchia dug back in and found what he describes as the ideal location for a bocce facility in the former Riverfront Fitness Center four blocks north of downtown.

“Really, the concept is based around nonelectronic activities that are shared social experiences, you can do while eating and drinking,” Secchia says.

With 50,000 square feet of space, the facility Secchia is naming Silva will include a ground-level parking garage, 50 indoor parking spots, a 20,000-square-foot exhibition banquet center—about which he notes, “We’re trying to get at least 1,500-person capacity”—with its own entrance, a bar and restaurant including outdoor seating, and five bocce courts that are going to be built by “guys we’re flying in from Italy.” It’s all on multiple levels that will give people seated above a chance to view the action below. He estimates the entire project cost at $10 million.

“We will have retail bocce, we will have leagues … or [people can] play with friends, but we’ll only allow people to book about 10 days in advance because we’re really saving it for corporate events,” Secchia explains. “It turns out Grand Rapids has a need for space for people to have corporate parties of 250 to 350 people. What we’re hoping is we can get corporate events—that groups can do bocce as a team-building thing.”

A stage will be available to cover the courts “so people can turn [the space] into what they want to,” he says. Other activities will include pool, darts, an outdoor putting area, and others to be determined as plans evolve. “We’re really going for entertainment facility rather than bar and restaurant,” Secchia says. He hopes Silva will open in the second half of next year.