A green place with more bandwidth space

May 17, 2010
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Not only has DeVos Place management achieved a key goal by having the building certified as a “green venue,” it has reached another milestone for the city’s convention center by upgrading and broadening its bandwidth.

Both accomplishments are expected to make the building even more competitive in the consistently aggressive race to snare business meetings and conventions for the local hospitality industry.

The Convention and Arena Authority, which is responsible for the building’s overall operation, and SMG, the firm that manages that operation on a daily basis, earned DeVos Place a Green Venues certification from the state’s Bureau of Energy Systems, a unit within the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. The bureau awarded the convention center a Steward Certification, the second-highest of the program’s three tiers, and DeVos Place became only the third facility in the state late last month to earn that tiered recognition.

The certification is a nice addition, but the truth is that having it is no longer an option. Meeting planners often consider a green and sustainable facility a requirement when choosing a site for their conventions.

“What we’re seeing now is it’s no longer a trend — it’s becoming the norm. In requests for proposals, there is typically a section that addresses sustainability and the green-effort types of things. They’re asking for real specifics as to not only what your building is doing, but what your community is doing in terms of sustainability and going green,” said Eddie Tadlock, SMG assistant general manager for DeVos Place and point man for the certification effort.

“If we had this conversation five years ago, people would have seen it as only a passing fancy. It’s not. The reality is, it is becoming even more pronounced,” he added.

The sales team at the Convention and Visitors Bureau and SMG now can promote DeVos Place as a green place and as yet another arrow in the city’s growing sustainability arsenal. Tadlock said those issues can impact a sales presentation. He said that before some delegates will choose a community, they want to know what type of taxi will transport them from the airport to their hotel and what a hotel has done to conserve energy.

“Hybrid vehicles or green vehicles are a huge thing. People are looking for that. When they get to the hotel, they want to know what type of conservative effort a hotel is making,” he said.

The city’s three downtown hotels also have been certified by the state through the Green Lodging Michigan program, the statewide forerunner of the Green Venue program that sets environmental standards for the lodging industry across three levels. The downtown Holiday Inn and the JW Marriott are each certified as “Leader,” the program’s top tier. The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is certified as “Steward.”

Tadlock said the state deserves major kudos for creating the programs. Both the venue and lodging certifications are similar to the better-known U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification, even down to the checklists and site inspections. The state’s version, though, isn’t nearly as costly as LEED. In fact, no money changes hands between a venue and the Bureau of Energy Systems.

“If a venue tries to go through the process for a LEED certification, it’s a pretty comprehensive and exhaustive process. Then there is the whole price tag that goes along with it. You go through all the paperwork and then you’ve got to have somebody come out and inspect your venue. Then you cut a check for a certain amount and you get a plaque,” said Tadlock.

“A lot of venues, especially the smaller ones, can’t afford that. It’s just cost prohibitive. So as a result, they do nothing and (LEED) becomes this all or nothing equation. But this program with the state is completely voluntary. It follows the same kind of process, if you will, as LEED’s. The checklists are almost identical. But it’s all voluntary and it’s not costing us anything, other than the time and effort to make sure everything is in place for the inspection.”

Tadlock said the CAA and SMG will look into gaining Green Venue certification also for Van Andel Arena, the other building both organizations manage. He added that it is fairly likely they will attempt to gain the certification’s top level, Leader, for DeVos Place next year.

Also last month, the digital bandwidth capacity at DeVos Place was dramatically raised, going from 6 megabytes to 45. Tadlock said a DS3 fiber Ethernet circuit was installed to replace the four outdated copper T1 lines that have supported the 20 wireless access points in the building since it opened in late 2003. The upgrade cost about $5,000; Tadlock felt it was a good business investment in the convention center’s immediate future.

“We have several groups that come here that have a need for higher bandwidth based on the programs they have, and they may have upwards of 300 or 400 users. They’re downloading and uploading information, and when you’ve got that many people downloading and up loading, it can be taxing to a system,” he said.

But Tadlock pointed out that the upgrade is only a short-term solution because the building is running the DS3 line across the same seven-year old gear the T1 lines used, and that equipment has reached the end of its shelf life.

The remedy for the long term is to create bandwidth space that approaches a gigabyte, or 1,000 MB, and at a cost that will likely exceed six figures. Earlier this year, the CAA indicated the building’s digital expansion could very well find a place on the capital projects improvement list for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1.

“For our long-term program, we want to have enough bandwidth so we can be prepared for the next 10 or 15 years,” said Tadlock. “And the beauty of fiber is, that’s doable.”

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