Events are driving traffic downtown

June 10, 2011
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The Downtown Development Authority made its annual allocation last week to the Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization that is responsible for bringing people into the district.

The alliance will use the $170,000 for advertising that it will place with Experience Grand Rapids and others, for marketing tools and promotions, for a grant program that helps fund events and for staffing.

“This is very much a partnership between the Downtown Alliance and the DDA,” said Sharon Evoy, alliance executive director.

Evoy told board members that the alliance plans to spend more time assisting with events in the coming fiscal year that starts July 1.

“We’ve got quite a few events coming up,” she said. “Merchants have been really responding well to the events. Most have worked out really great for our merchants, but some (events) need a little bit of tweaking.”

One that has worked out well has been ArtPrize, the multi-week arts competition started by Rick DeVos and held throughout downtown in September and October.

“For many of our businesses, ArtPrize has replaced the holiday season as their biggest time of the year,” said Evoy.

Another big event was the recent Lip Dub orchestrated by Rob Bliss to Don McLean’s hit from 40 years ago, “American Pie.” Evoy said she has received e-mail from people all over the globe who are interested in coming to Grand Rapids after viewing the highly acclaimed one-take video on the Internet.

“It’s not just Lip Dub. It’s LaughFest. It’s ArtPrize,” Evoy said.

“Everyone on the marketing side has done a fabulous job over the years,” said Joseph Tomaselli, DDA member.

“You’ve got an outstanding record going on here,” said Jim Dunlap, also a board member.

Everything, however, is not bliss downtown. Evoy said her office receives complaints about a lack of trees in some areas and of chalked-up sidewalks in front of stores.

“We also get complaints about events,” she said. Those complaints mostly revolve around streets being temporarily closed. Evoy said to minimize those complaints, she tries to see that daytime parades are under way by 9 a.m. so streets can be reopened by the time stores and restaurants open.

But the stickiest problem, and perhaps the most unsightly and unsanitary one, is people are spitting out their chewing gum on Monroe Center’s sidewalks. The alliance has a crew that cleans and picks up trash in the sector at least six days a week — seven if an event is being held.

“Gum is a harder thing to deal with,” said Evoy. “It has to be scraped.”

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