Restaurateur ArtPrize is an extremely big deal

September 3, 2010
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ArtPrize isn’t only a major event for artists, art fanciers and those who are simply curious and want to take a walk around downtown on a fall day.

The 16-day art competition that begins Sept. 22 also is a major event for downtown businesses — most notably the 18 restaurants that make up an association called the Arena District.

“Oh, yeah, it’s an extremely big deal,” said Dennis Moosbrugger, Arena District president and co-owner of Bar Divani at 15 Ionia Ave. SW. “This just makes Sunday like a Friday or Saturday, so it really gives us a full three-day weekend — especially the first week. And being the second year, we’re going to have more people anyway.”

ArtPrize, the event founded last year by Rick DeVos, brought crowds downtown that spent enough money to raise the restaurants’ revenues by an average of 30 percent over the same period the previous year.

“I’d say 30 percent is a good number,” said Moosbrugger. “You get all kinds of new patrons coming in, especially to check out the art. So, yes, we definitely saw an uptick for those two weeks.”

Moosbrugger said most of the members will be displaying art in their businesses and will be open past their usual hours. He said they’re also gearing up for what he called a food fest on the event’s first Sunday, Sept. 26.

Last year, some restaurants weren’t prepared for the hungry crowds. In fact, some of the district’s members were closed that first Sunday, following their usual hours. Some that were open didn’t have enough inventory on hand and ran out of food. Moosebrugger said none of the members will be caught with their utensils down this time.

“We think everybody will be in much better straits with the expectation of the same number of people and dining patrons, even without Rob Bliss’ (paper airplane) event we had last year. I’m assuming that probably brought in 5,000 to 10,000 extra people, but we’re still going to have 10,000 to 15,000 people downtown,” he said.

“That certainly warrants everybody having enough food and preparing for that massive onslaught, especially for the facilities that do have art and are showing art. That’s pretty much the Tre Cuginis, ourselves and the nicer facilities. Of course, The BOB has its whole array. And anybody that has wall space is, I think, being art inclusive,” he added.

It’s tough to fault the downtown restaurant owners for missing out on the first ArtPrize Sunday. In the past, some have opened and staffed their businesses on Sundays in expectation that a convention or an arena event would bring waves of diners through their doors, only to be let down. And when more were open on the second Sunday of ArtPrize last year, the weather wasn’t as good as the first Sunday. So the crowd was smaller and so were appetites and dining tabs.

“But this is a whole other animal,” said Moosbrugger of the second event. “Everybody is gung ho and prepared. I guarantee they’re going to be ready this year.”

Gilmore Collection CEO Greg Gilmore said this year’s ArtPrize is so important that he had already had eight meetings about the event with his staff at The BOB when the competition was still more than a month away. He also said one of his top assistants at the entertainment center had spent the last four months preparing the business for the event. “So it’s a tremendous effort,” he said.

Gilmore said The BOB, at 20 Monroe Ave. NW, won’t be hosting as many art pieces this year as last year. The works of 96 artists will be on display throughout the building — that’s down from last year’s 156. He said there are two reasons for the downsizing.

“Some of the art is much larger. And I’m not putting art deep into restaurants this year because that was a disservice to artists, as well as to guests who had walked in to see art that was too far into a restaurant and that disturbed other diners. So we’re not doing it in Judson’s Steakhouse, for instance,” he said.

“But this year is a little easier because we have the history under our belt, and we were also able to get all the artists signed up earlier. That deadline has come and gone by two months, so now it’s just the details of working with the artists on their locations. This year will be far, far easier than last year. Our expectation is it will be more successful than last year in every respect,” he added.

Gilmore said last year’s ArtPrize traffic was wonderful. He agreed that revenue during the event was about 30 percent higher than the previous year. He said the restaurants in The BOB were ready and didn’t run out of any menu items. But he added that they weren’t completely ready for a few unexpected blitzes.

“It was just throngs and throngs of people. I think we had up to 10,000 people come through a day at several points. They wore the hinges off our front doors — literally. I’m not kidding you about that,” he said. “We had to have several of our door hinges re-drilled and replaced. So this year, I’m going to prop the doors open.”

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