Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Government

DeVos Place is on a remarkable fiscal journey

Arena had perhaps its best financial month ever in February.

April 12, 2013
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When was the last time DeVos Place, the area’s convention center, was this much in the black this far into the fiscal year?

“Never,” answered Convention and Arena Authority Chairman Steven Heacock.

Heacock said convention centers generally aren’t supposed to be in such good fiscal condition this late in the year. He noted that convention centers are largely seen as loss leaders to help pump up an area’s hospitality industry.

However, eight months into the fiscal year, DeVos Place was $181,700 in the black. At the same time a year ago, it was $192,000 in the red.

For the most recent reported month, February, DeVos Place had a surplus of $190,600. That figure was lower than the surplus recorded in February of last year when the building cleared $221,821 and 4,000 more people came through the turnstiles than this February.

SMG Finance Director Chris Machuta told the CAA that consumer shows held in the building were strongly attended and ancillary income exceeded the budgeted amount. Total event income after eight months was more than $200,000 above last year’s total at $3.6 million, with the public shows accounting for nearly 20 percent.

Heacock said conventions and tradeshows also were responsible for the good number, as the building is beginning to “make noise,” as he put it, with national organizations. And that is one of the key reasons DeVos Place was built. The old Grand Center had much of the state and local meeting business but it didn’t register with the national and regional meeting planners.

“Experience Grand Rapids has done a good job,” he said.

A number of downtown events have made regional and even national news. The biggest “noisemaker,” of course, has been ArtPrize, the annual 19-day arts competition that has drawn even international fame. But the noise began with much quieter events such as the pillow fight, zombie walk and Lyon Street slide events put together by Rob Bliss.

“Everything builds on itself,” said Heacock.

Heacock felt another reason DeVos Place is surging fiscally is because the perception that it’s difficult to get here is slowly going away. He said a medical-related convention is set to meet here next year after meeting in Montreal this year and going to Puerto Rico the year after next. He said sandwiching Grand Rapids between those well-known two locales might raise some eyebrows, but he said the meeting’s planners said its members are happy to come here because many can drive, instead of flying, and bring their families along.

When the Business Journal asked Heacock if DeVos Place will finish the year in the black, which would be a first, he said the SMG staff told him it likely wouldn’t happen because the financials are expected to flatten out over the year’s remaining four months. “But they always say that,” said Heacock.

February’s good fiscal news didn’t stop with the convention center.

Van Andel Arena had one of the biggest months in its 16-year existence in February — a surplus of $611,130 from just 11 events. Machuta said four sold-out concerts and good crowds for the Grand Rapids Griffins games brought 87,500 paying customers through the doors, almost 30,000 more than the previous February.

At the eight-month mark, the arena had a surplus of $1.1 million for the fiscal year. A year earlier, that figure was less than $475,000.

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