Kent Wont Ban Smoking

October 13, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — If city commissioners pass a new anti-smoking ordinance, SMG officials will do what they can to accommodate paying customers who smoke and attend events at Van Andel Arena and DeVos Performance Hall.

And city commissioners will have to approve the ordinance if the policy is to become law, because the Kent County Commission doesn't intend to take the matter up anytime soon.

Kent County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan told the Business Journal last week he was aware that Mayor George Heartwell and 2nd Ward City Commissioner Rick Tormala said the ordinance should be countywide and that county commissioners should be the ones creating the regulation.

"This should be adopted by a county, not a city. The county is responsible for public health," said Heartwell.

"The county should be doing this," added Tormala.

But Morgan said his board wouldn't be debating the issue in the near future because the county believes that businesses and property owners should decide what type of smoking policy to have in place, and government shouldn't dictate one.

Morgan also said enforcing such an ordinance would be difficult at best and a nightmare at worst. Heartwell said the city's ordinance would be complaint-driven, and non-compliance would result in a civil penalty. But the mayor believes most business owners would obey the ordinance.

"I fully expect they would comply," said Heartwell. "Little enforcement is likely to be needed."

In a nutshell, the ordinance would ban smoking in enclosed public or private worksites or public places within the city, would require every employer within the city to adopt and disseminate a written smoking policy, and would prohibit smoking near the entrances, windows and ventilation systems of all buildings covered by the ordinance.

"It is limited to entrance ways and indoors," said Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth White.

The ordinance also calls for "No Smoking" signs to be posted in buildings covered by the regulation. But state law stops the city from adding restaurants, bars, hotel and motel rooms, halls used for private functions, private homes and tobacco stores to the ordinance.

Smoking has never been allowed inside the 10-year-old arena. Nor has it been allowed in the performance hall and convention center for years. But ticket buyers to events held in those buildings have been able to smoke outside in designated areas.

One of those areas at Van Andel Arena, though, is situated within 10 feet of a window, and the ordinance bans smoking within that distance from entrances, air vents and windows. The ordinance doesn't appear to distinguish between windows that can be opened and those that can't.

"Right now, what we can do to accommodate smokers is somewhat limited because of the venue. But, like with everything, we will just make things work to accommodate them," said Rich MacKeigan, SMG general manager, who is responsible for day-to-day operations at the arena and performance hall.

"Once we have a good look at the [ordinance's] language, we can find a good way to accommodate it," he added.

One option MacKeigan may have is to move the smoking area away from the arena, where the windows serve as one boundary, and place it closer to

Fulton Street
. Another might be to slide it to the east and away from the entrance doors.

MacKeigan said he hasn't had a chance to talk with city officials about what the ordinance would mean for smoking outside of the buildings. Nor has he had an opportunity to discuss the issue with arena and performance hall tenants, whose customers could be affected by the ordinance. Not being able to smoke outside of the buildings could result in some customers staying away from events.

DP Fox Sports and Entertainment is the arena's tenant, as majority owner of the Grand Rapids Griffins and sole owner of the Rampage. Vice President of Marketing and Sales Bob Sack said his company views the matter as an operational issue and has complete faith that building manager SMG will come up with an appropriate solution.

"I'm confident that SMG and Rich MacKeigan will come up with a solution that takes care of the patrons. I think we as a team and as a building don't underestimate the critical importance of the customers who come to our events. And we know some way and some how we have to take care of them and I know he is working on that," said Sack.

If city commissioners approve the ordinance, which was promoted by Heartwell as a way to combat the effects of second-hand smoke, the new regulation would go into effect a year later. MacKeigan said a year would give him and his staff enough time to figure out how smokers could be accommodated at both buildings.

The city ordinance only applies to smoking and not to other potentially harmful indoor pollutants and contaminants released through exhaust emissions from the motocross and monster truck shows in the arena and the auto races held in

DeVos Place
.

But MacKeigan said those events are already regulated, as is smoking in the buildings, and the regulations are being seriously adhered to.

"All of that is tightly controlled. We do currently work with the fire department to assess internal air quality for those events, and we take readings on a regular basis," he said. "I think any type of regulations that are already in place, we are adhering to very, very strictly, and that is something that we police aggressively."    

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