Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Travel & Tourism

ArtPrize's first week successful on all counts

September 27, 2012
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Though official visitor numbers from the first weekend of ArtPrize have yet to be reported, anecdotally, at least, it looks like this year’s competition will be on par with last year — if not better.

“We are feeling pretty good in terms of what we can look at — and that is voter numbers. Right now, we are pushing 186,000 total votes,” said Brian Burch, ArtPrize public relations director. “We have almost 26,000 activated voters. That is spot on. That is exactly where we need to be in our estimation. We were expecting to have that or slightly more in regard to the number of voters, which is great, and total number of votes should be very similar, as well. We are feeling very positive about that and that is the best number we can measure at the moment.”

Burch said the exhibition centers each use a different system for collecting visitor numbers. The Grand Rapids Art Museum relies on the use of stickers. Each visitor receives a sticker, which is numbered and will allow GRAM to report the visitor count total. Burch said the venue is on track to meet or exceed last year, with 160,000 to 170,000 visitors.

He also expects the Grand Rapids Public Museum will see between 180,000 and 200,000 visitors.

The first weekend may have been a little slow due to the threat of rain on Friday and Saturday. Still, downtown restaurants have no complaints about their sales tallies.

Dan and Lisa Verhil, who own One Trick Pony and The Cottage Bar, said they were very happy with the sales at both of their establishments from the weekend. Both establishments operate under extended hours during ArtPrize, with One Trick Pony adding lunch on Saturdays and both restaurants open Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.

“We stayed open a little bit longer at One Trick Pony,” Lisa Verhil said. “We closed the Cottage at 6, but we figured if all the venues closed at 6 there’s going to be people who are hungry, so we stayed open until 7 and got a rush between 6 and 7.”

Dan Verhil said both establishments saw a 50 percent increase in sales compared to a typical weekend. On Monday, the effects of ArtPrize could still be felt. Dan Verhil gestured to his busy restaurant at 2 p.m. and said it was completely due to ArtPrize.

HopCat was also nearly full during the mid-afternoon. Mark Sellers, owner of Barfly Ventures, said this year his restaurants, HopCat and McFadden’s, are each about 15 percent above last year’s first weekend sales. Even his bar, Stella’s, which does not participate in the competition, saw sales increase from ArtPrize traffic by 30 percent.

“I was at Sweet Yo’s the other day, and they were packed with people,” Burch said, referring to a new frozen yogurt shop downtown.

“It’s really hard not to see everyone feeling that positive impact of having tens of thousands of people in downtown Grand Rapids. It’s not just the hotel properties or The B.O.B. It’s Kilwins and Sweet Yo’s and The Dog Pit.”

Burch said MadCap had a line out the door of 20 to 30 people throughout Saturday.

The restaurants are typically on 20-minute waits during an average Friday or Saturday night, but ArtPrize increases those wait times to up to 45 minutes, and the Verhils say people are happy to wait for a table.

“We feel like it has been hugely successful for us in terms of getting people out in September,” said Dave Reinert, president of Rockwell and Republic.

He explained that he sees September as a transition month when many people are re-establishing their routines following summer, so ArtPrize has really helped his businesses through that traditionally slower time.

Rockwell and Republic did 3 to 4 percent better during the first weekend this year compared to last year’s first weekend. Reinert expects that this week’s weather will help his restaurant have an even bigger second week.

Last year, ArtPrize added $15.4 million to the Grand Rapids/Kent County economy, according to an economic impact study released by Experience Grand Rapids and conducted by Anderson Economic Group.

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