Wine Food Festival wrap-up anticipated

January 23, 2010
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Members of the Convention and Arena Authority are expected to get a wrap-up report this week on the 2nd Annual Wine and Food Festival, which the board and Showspan Inc. co-produced and held in DeVos Place last November.

At a recent meeting of the CAA Liaison Committee, which includes officials from the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County, the group’s executive director, Rich MacKeigan, indicated that the event finished in the black by anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 — up to a $70,000 turnaround from the first event.

The 2008 festival lost roughly $30,000, but MacKeigan said much of the loss was due to start-up costs that were fully taken in the first year.

The second event was larger in several ways: Attendance was up by 2,600 from the 7,000 the first festival drew; the number of wines offered for tasting rose from 800 to 1,000; and the number of restaurants grew from six to 12. More than 250,000 sample tickets were sold at the last event.

“It really did showcase the building,” said CAA Chairman Steven Heacock.

The three-day festival closed each night at 9 p.m., and a few members of the committee wondered if that was too early. Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom, also a member of the CAA’s Operations Committee, didn’t think so because the board has often said it doesn’t want the event to compete with downtown restaurants and taverns for customers.

He also felt the event’s hours kept another problem from popping up.

“By ending early, I don’t think we had an intoxication problem,” said Sundstrom.

The idea behind closing the festival at 9 p.m. is that attendees will continue the evening at a downtown establishment. To further that goal, City Commissioner Walt Gutowski suggested that restaurants in the district hire rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages to take festival goers from DeVos Place to their businesses at no charge.

MacKeigan said he would mention that idea to restaurant owners in planning sessions for this year’s event, scheduled for Nov. 18-20. Showspan Vice President Henri Boucher said earlier that he was thinking about expanding the food portion of the festival this year and was considering the possibility of bringing in a celebrity chef as a headliner.

“We have to be smart about how we grow this,” said MacKeigan, also SMG regional general manager.

Another committee member asked whether the event could sell wine by the case. MacKeigan said they’ve looked into that but they prefer that a winery owner or distributor tell attendees where their products can be purchased.

“It’s just like the restaurants. We don’t need to compete with or supplant them,” said Heacock. He added that some sales outlets, like Meijer stores, are partners and sponsors of the event.

The CAA also was expected to select an option for expanding the Van Andel Arena’s northwest concourse at this week’s meeting. Heacock, however, indicated that a choice will be put off for a while to give the board more time to gather additional project information. But he said the plan is to have the work done this summer when traffic at the arena is slow.

Heacock also said there wasn’t anything new to report on the amphitheater that the CAA hopes to build on county property in Millennium Park. He said the concept still makes sense as it would draw acts that don’t play here now and wouldn’t compete with the summer series at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

“We just don’t have the $30 million needed to build it,” he said.

Heacock also reported that the CAA was working with the Grand Action Committee to put together an urban market in the city.

He also said the board would release a report on how the convention center and arena has contributed to the local economy, “I think we all know that is going to be positive.”

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