DeVos Becoming The Place

April 20, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Consumer shows drew nearly 212,000 to the exhibit space at

DeVos Place
through March and delivered $957,000 of event income to the building. Both numbers are slightly under budget and both likely would have been higher if the weather would have been better in February and March.

Although both the patio, pool and spa, and the lakefront living shows were in the building last week, March is regarded as the traditional end of the consumer show season that normally starts in January.

"It was kind of an up-and-down year for the consumer shows, depending on the weather," said SMG Director of Finance Chris Machuta. "The Women's Expo shattered its attendance record."

More than 524,000 had entered the convention center and DeVos Performance Hall by the end of the fiscal year's third quarter that ended March 31, and the events they attended were worth almost $3.6 million in event income to

DeVos Place
at the end of March.

Total operating revenue, which includes other sources than event income, stood at $3.7 million. But total operating expenses reached $4 million for the year last month, which left the building with a deficit just shy of $250,000 for the year. That shortfall is about $150,000 less than what it was expected to be at the third-quarter mark.

Machuta projected

DeVos Place
would lose $600,000 this year if business continued at the current pace. He said that loss would be $125,000 less than the original forecast made at the start of the fiscal year last July.

But County Fiscal Services Director Robert White, who also serves on the Convention and Arena Authority Finance Committee, noted that the building lost $300,000 in the first quarter, annually the center's slowest three-month period. With half of the year's projected loss occurring at the start of the fiscal year in July, August and September, White said the rest of the year has been good.

SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan said

DeVos Place
is starting to become more active in the first quarter, as national and regional conventions are choosing to come here during those warm-weather months.

So to write that business is headed in the right direction at the convention center might not be too far off the mark, especially because the Professional Bowlers Association held the final round of the Denny's World Championship in the building last month. The event was televised on ESPN2, and SMG's Todd Johnson said the broadcast carried a lot of positive comments about

DeVos Place

"It was really popular — a packed house," said Johnson of the turnout.

Johnson also noted that two SMG staffers have attained status as Certified Media Professionals, an accreditation that comes from the Convention Industry Council. Johnson said more meeting planners are asking whether a building has CMPs on staff, and some will only book a building that does. Johnson said an individual must have extensive experience in the business and complete a six-month training course to qualify as a CMP.

Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson said the certification provides a benchmark standard for working with clients.

"To say we have CMPs on staff gives us credibility with clients," said Joseph Tomaselli, Convention and Arena Authority board member.

"It is highly touted and highly pushed in the Michigan business association," MacKeigan said. "It gives (clients) more peace of mind."

Wilson said the bureau recently booked the National Leadership Forum of the Lions Club for 2008, a meeting that should draw 3,000 attendees here.

Wilson also said he will meet with Steven Heacock and other personnel at the Van Andel Institute for Research and Education next week to map out strategy to draw organizations in the life-sciences field here for meetings.

The CVB is also looking for a Chicago-based representative to provide the bureau with leads. Jeff Poole of JSP Marketing does that now for the CVB from Washington, D.C. A Chicago rep would join Poole in marketing the city. But the CVB needs at least two other cities to share the expense of a Chicago rep. The local bureau and three other CVBs have hired Poole to push their cities as destinations.

"We've set a limit of no more than four. We've found that four, non-competing cities work well together," said Wilson

The arena had a profitable March, earning net income of $268,000 from 23 events, and the building is on track to record a surplus of more than $1.4 million for the fiscal year. At the third-quarter mark, the arena was almost $1.6 million to the good.

Machuta said April would be a slow month, but May should be a good one, with Kenny Chesney, the Gaither Homecoming and Andre Rieu playing the building. He said the fiscal year should end up being the third- or fourth-best in the arena's 11-year history.    

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