Downtown booster says ArtPrize is hitting the mark

October 5, 2009
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The early return showing that ArtPrize was a big positive for downtown businesses and restaurants is more than encouraging, especially in an economy that is less than inspiring. The hope that Rick DeVos and his merry band of cohorts has instilled for the city’s future through their creative thinking and plain ole hard work is, well, awesome.

“We’re really excited about the long-term benefit of having Grand Rapids be this center of art and the center of creative thought. This is a really unusual event. There really wasn’t anything like this before this. And of all the cities in the world, we are the only city that has this event,” said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, the official “voice” of downtown business owners.

“This is very unique, and I think it says a lot about the citizens and about the community and the businesses here. This creativity and the ability to come up with the idea, and then to pull it off and get 1,200 pieces of art! It’s crazy for the first year out to have this kind of response,” she added. “We are absolutely thrilled.”

A Wealthy return

Businesses on Wealthy Street and in the rest of the expansive Uptown neighborhood hit record sales during ArtPeers Fall Festival, which ran September 25-27.

“Everybody up and down our particular stretch were seeing some of their best days,” said Mike Knorr, one of the heads for ArtPeers. “I don’t know if it was from general increase in traffic from the city — obviously, we’ve done quite a lot of marketing ourselves.”

Knorr, along with his wife, Lori, owns The Sparrows Coffee, Tea & Newsstand located in the heart of the ArtPeers madness at 1035 Wealthy St. SE.

The event catered to artists who, for one reason or another, were not involved with ArtPrize.

“We got a lot of disenfranchised artists who didn’t want to participate in ArtPrize, or couldn’t afford to, or didn’t feel like they’d be competitive, and were a little scared, too,” he said. “Everybody I talked to was pretty slammed all weekend.”

The Uptown area is home to many local artists, and Knorr said the community was very excited about the ArtPrize event, but initially some felt excluded since the event was limited to the downtown area.

“ArtPrize should have been more inclusive with some of the more culturally active parts of the city, but, for myself — seeing how ArtPrize shakes out — downtown has the infrastructure to handle the people. … Keeping it really condensed like this gets the most participation.”

As an artist himself, Knorr said ArtPrize can be intimidating.

“There’s quite a few people, myself included, who are artists themselves in the city going, ‘I don’t know that I would really spend the money to register when I know I probably don’t stand a shot at winning,’” he said. Knorr noted that some venues are charging rental fees to the artists, as well.

“There’s a lot of investment on the part of the artist, with no real plan for getting that money back unless you win this long-shot prize. From a business standpoint, it’s not necessarily good, other than exposure.”

ArtPeers had close to 30 venues and 60 artists, and there were no fees for either artists or venues to participate.

A Big Ole Bonanza

The BOB, host of 158 artists, saw a 36 percent increase in revenues during the first weekend of ArtPrize, compared to the same weekend last year. Given the weather improved, Greg Gilmore, CEO of the Gilmore Collection, expected a 15 to 20 percent increase for last week.

“It’s definitely a very consistent flow-through of an uptick,” said Gilmore. “This is like 18 days of concerts at the arena, but it’s better than that because people don’t come over before the show, then come back after the show. They’re basically here all day and all night. There’s no better event for downtown.”

Gilmore said the weather has played a definite role in how many people have come out. At the time of the interview, he reported that the parking lot was full (it was a sunny afternoon).

The BOB, as one can imagine, experiences quite a bit of carry-over from events taking place at the Van Andel Arena across the street.

“Typically, we would see about a 20 to 30 percent increase from a sold-out show,” he said. “But the thing about ArtPrize is, it’s day and night. There’s nothing to compare it to.

“It’s not like Festival. Festival really eats into our revenues (due to outdoor vendors). This is geared 100 percent to downtown entities to serve, because nobody else is serving out on the streets. It’s very, very positive.”

Looking for the rerun

The 23rd Annual University of Michigan Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum is a bit more than a month away, and this time it will be held in Ann Arbor, the home of some major university. But last year the annual event was held in Grand Rapids, at DeVos Place, and one key forum individual still remembers his visit to River City and is looking forward to next year’s return.

“I became an enormous fan of Grand Rapids last year when we had the real estate forum there. It was fun and it was an eye-opening experience for anyone who came over from southeast Michigan. Those that came were unbelievably impressed,” said Don Taylor, development director for the U-M Alfred Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning.

The dreaded spread

Kent County Administrative Health Officer Cathy Raevsky offered employers a few words of advice with the flu season knocking on the door: Send your ill workers home. “We’re advising people to stay home if they’re sick,” she said.

Raevsky also suggested that those at high risk for getting the flu get a prescription for an anti-viral now and stick it in a desk drawer until it’s needed. Better to be safe then running to the doc’s office after the fact, because the line will likely be long.

So what about the status of the novel H1N1 flu vaccine?

“We don’t know what we’re going to get, how much we’re going to get and what formulations,” she said. “Everything that we know and our history tells us this is a very safe shot. It will come in slowly, but I think we will eventually have enough to give everyone a shot who wants one.”

Raevsky said pregnant women, caregivers to infants, medical-service workers and those age 6 months to 24 years should get an H1N1 vaccine first, as should anyone of any age with a chronic health condition that the flu could worsen. She said regional data shows the flu is spreading.

Then Raevsky made a pledge that shows why she chose public service as her career. “If I have to open my clinics on a Saturday just to give flu shots, we can do that.”

Cards on the table

A word of caution also comes from Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Vice President George Helmstead: Don’t use the term “ping pong” within a three-block radius of DeVos Place until next August.

Why? Because the bureau is really close to locking in a major table tennis association meeting at the convention center in July. More than 1,200 players will come, if the CVB can close the deal.

“They hate that,” said Helmstead, with a laugh, about calling it ping pong.

The term “nothing but net” probably wouldn’t be good to use, either, as 90 tables will be set up in DeVos Place to handle all the games. The bureau is competing with Milwaukee, a bowling town, for the meeting.

Getting the association here would rekindle fond memories of GR residents Connie and Dell Sweeris, who represented this nation in the Olympics decades ago. Both are in the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame. They earned 25 national titles between them, including four national doubles crowns.

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