Theres Room For The Messiah

March 31, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The "Messiah" will appear at DeVos Performance Hall after all, as members of the Convention and Arena Authority unanimously agreed to make an exception to the building's 20-year-old booking policy last week.

The board ratified, and also altered, a booking settlement submitted by the Calvin College Oratorio Society, which has presented Handel's "Messiah" at a downtown site for the past 70 Christmas seasons. The action taken by the CAA means the "Messiah" will be performed each December at DeVos Hall from 2003 through 2007.

The building's booking policy gives the four arts tenants first choice of performance dates over other groups because the symphony, ballet, opera and Broadway Theater Guild are defined as frequent users of DeVos Hall. The four will collectively rent the building more than 220 times during the 2003-04 season, which starts in September, while the Oratorio Society traditionally leases it twice a year.

The settlement the board approved has Calvin selecting a number of dates in the first half of December over the next five years for its presentation, but gives the arts tenants first shot at the specific dates offered by Calvin. The college is then left with dates not chosen by the tenants.

"I do have some concern that there is an erosion of the policy for something that neither party has fully agreed to," said CAA member Lew Chamberlin. "Whatever they work out becomes the booking policy."

Chamberlin added that granting an exception might force the seven-member board into micro-managing the booking policy.

Board member Birgit Klohs wondered how the CAA would prevent others from coming to them making the same request. CAA Chairman John Logie said that other groups would have to match the standard that the Oratorio Society has set, by performing over such a long period of time in a public building located downtown.

The CAA Operations Committee denied a request from Calvin College for a Friday date in the building last December, saying that doing so would violate the booking policy. SMG, the management firm that operates the building, recommended Calvin's request be denied. The college appealed that decision to the full board and argued its case in February when board members tabled a decision to give all parties involved a chance to iron out a solution.

SMG general manager Rich MacKeigan told board members that having the arts tenants and the Society all playing at DeVos Hall was good for the building's bottom line. He didn't think the new agreement would cause any chaos in scheduling events for the performance center, either.

"As it relates to DeVos, it's irrelevant," said MacKeigan. "It doesn't impact our ability to book other business."           

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