Sports Business and Travel & Tourism

Business is better at arena and convention center

August 20, 2012
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The unaudited, preliminary figures show that DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena had a better fiscal year than the previous one. And the Convention and Arena Authority, which owns both buildings, did well compared to last year but didn’t post a surplus.

The CAA ended the 2012 fiscal year with a deficit of $42,291. Still, that number was much better than the $2.66 million shortfall the board recorded for 2011. Much of the difference between the two years is found in the amount the board spent on capital improvements to the buildings. The CAA invested $3.4 million in FY11 and just $656,650 last year.

DeVos Place, the city’s convention center, unofficially ended the year with a deficit of $390,228. That shortfall was smaller than the $437,509 the building lost in the previous year. It’s at least the second consecutive year DeVos Place has reduced its annual deficit.

“We hope to continue this trend,” said Birgit Klohs, chairwoman of the CAA Finance Committee. SMG, which oversees daily operations for both structures, had projected a loss of $775,000 for the convention center at the start of FY12. The year ended June 30.

The arena recorded a preliminary surplus of $901,443 this past year, which was better than its margin of $842,960 the previous year. SMG had projected a $1 million surplus at the start of FY12. Falling short of that number means Van Andel has had two straight years of not meeting that goal, which the building previously had done every year since it opened in 1996.

“We will have a full report next month,” said Klohs. SMG Regional General Manager and CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan said auditing of the preliminary financial statements will get underway this week, a few weeks earlier than in past years.

As for the current fiscal year, MacKeigan said the arena has been active. “The arena is doing well. Bob Dylan is booked and signed. Everything we’ve got is up and selling very well. There seems to be optimism for the coming year,” he said of the responses he has received from promoters and agents. “But that was also the sense last year.”

MacKeigan also said once the Grand Rapids Griffins receives its schedule from the American Hockey League, he will have a better idea of which dates he can offer to promoters. Most AHL franchises aren’t primary tenants in the buildings they play in like the Griffins are, and the AHL usually doesn’t release its schedule until the NBA releases its. The NBA starts play later than hockey does, so AHL teams have to wait for their schedules.

“The team has been very good in working with us and opening things up,” said MacKeigan of the Griffins front office.

The summer has also been active at DeVos Place. MacKeigan said national and regional groups like to come to Michigan in the warmer months, and downtown has seen steady streams of delegates strolling the streets and eating at restaurants.

MacKeigan said a part of the city’s convention success can be attributed to Grand Rapids being seen by meeting planners as a “big fish in a little pond” that offers good service to groups that come here. Unlike Las Vegas, which has multiple meetings going on at the same time, he said the city normally only has one, and it gets all the attention.

MacKeigan noted that restaurants have signs in the windows welcoming convention-goers and when the staff greets delegates, they know which convention is in town.

“That’s a credit to Experience Grand Rapids,” he said of the convention and visitors bureau, which just won national acclaim for marketing the city as an arts destination.

“It was a huge success,” said George Helmstead, who directs sales for Experience GR, “and it was a great honor to win it.”

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