Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Travel & Tourism

CAA makes sound decision for theater

Board kicking around the idea of two arena projects

August 9, 2013
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CAA makes sound decision for theater
DeVos Performance Hall has CAA funding for improvements, including its sound system.  ©Thinkstock.com

Fans of local performance art are likely to have their experiences enhanced a bit when they visit DeVos Performance Hall this season.

The Convention and Arena Authority recently agreed to make $3.3 million worth of upgrades to DeVos Place, which houses the hall, and Van Andel Arena. Twenty-six projects are on the board’s to-do list. Twenty-two of those are new and are evenly split between the arena and convention center. Four are carryovers from last year.

The performance hall will get a new $500,000 sound system, along with a $100,000 controller for the theater’s sound. Another $60,000 is going for spotlights in the 2,400-seat performance hall. SMG Vice President of Operations Jim Watt said the theater’s spotlights have been installed. “Most of the shows were required to rent spotlights,” he said.

Attendance at DeVos Performance Hall drew 165,839 paying customers over the 131 events held in the theater over the recently completed fiscal year for an average of 1,266 per show. Total event income from the theater reached $1.16 million in FY13, or $8,896 per event.

Both the attendance and income figures exceeded fiscal-year projections, with income topping the forecast by $229,000 or 24 percent. The theater accounted for 28 percent of the total attendance last year at DeVos Place and 20 percent of the building’s total event income.

The performance hall serves as the home base for the local symphony, opera, ballet and Broadway theater organization, whose series of imported road shows largely feature musicals.

Those going to the arena this fiscal year will find a new and better video board on the south wall and an improved HD television system throughout the building. The video board SMG has ordered sells for $900,000, but Watt said the CAA will get it for about $700,000. The new TV system will cost $25,000.

The arena’s elevators will also be upgraded for $100,000. “We’re reviewing that now,” said Watt.

SMG is also looking into converting its current ground-floor Van Andel office into another food and beverage opportunity that would be open to those attending arena events. The office is just to the right of the ticket windows.

SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan said he is meeting with Progressive AE to see what can be done with the space. SMG, which oversees daily operations at the arena, would move its office into the site that was previously occupied by the Grand Rapids Rampage, which is on the building’s west side along Ottawa Avenue. The Arena Football franchise ended operations several years ago.

MacKeigan emphasized that the project is in the “exploration stage” and the idea for it emerged from a study Rossetti & Associates did that led the CAA to expand the northwest corner of the concourse.  The improvement budget includes $215,000 to  make the conversion.

“A lot of the projects are saving us money or creating revenue,” said Lew Chamberlin, CAA board member, of the $3.3 million spending plan. “We can always find something to do,” added Watt.

Attendance at the arena over the past fiscal year easily surpassed the projected figure by 99,000. In FY13, 664,254 went through the building’s turnstiles, while 565,200 were projected to do that. Event income also topped the forecast by $500,000, as the building earned $3.3 million and $2.8 million was the projected number.

The arena drew an average of 5,445 ticketholders to the 122 events it hosted and earned an average of $27,258 in event income for each event.

CAA Chairman Steven Heacock wants the board to think about building a parking deck on the lot it owns directly behind the arena. With the Downtown Development Authority interested in selling the surface lots it owns south of the arena, including two across the street from the CAA’s lot, Heacock felt it might be a good idea to take a hard look at the potential project.

Orion Construction has targeted one of the DDA’s lots, the Area 1 across Ottawa Avenue from the arena, for its $28 million, mixed-use development that the firm plans to start work on in December.

Although Orion will build parking into its project, a CAA-built deck might catch some of the spillover from that retail, office and residential development and provide replacement parking should the DDA sell its two lots behind the arena.

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