Focus, Retail, and Travel & Tourism

ArtPrize is springboard to restaurants' busy season

Arena District enjoys 20 to 40 percent boost during event’s run.

September 19, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Arena District restaurants already logged a good summer, mostly due to the milder weather, and now they’re looking forward to a busy ArtPrize. Photo by Johnny Quirin

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) With nearly 400,000 more people spending time in downtown Grand Rapids than normal, ArtPrize is a boon to area hotels, restaurants and bars.

An Anderson Economic Group study of last year’s event found that more than 225,000 people visited the city and spent the equivalent of nearly 400,000 days. Those people needed a place to eat, sleep and drink, and spent more than $11.5 million.

Altogether, the net economic impact of ArtPrize was more than $22 million, including $6.3 million in earnings and 253 new jobs.

“It’s substantial,” said Dennis Moosbrugger, president of the Arena District. “It’s a great plus for downtown, and we’ve seen an increase in business of between 20 and 40 percent those weeks.”

The average spectator spent about $30 per day on meals, lodging and shopping. That boost represents a welcome return to the city’s busy season.

Moosbrugger said summer is generally a slow time for restaurants as many residents head out of town. He said the slow season usually comes to an end about the third week of September as the weather cools down, and people close up cottages as schools go into full swing.

ArtPrize provides a nice springboard to fall’s busy season.

“It’s slow until around Labor Day and the week after,” he said. “Then we see a surge. And Restaurant Week in August was a nice boost, as well.”

Final sales figures this year should be above average, with a cooler-than-normal summer combined with a bigger-than-ever ArtPrize.

“I think it’s been better than last year; the summer wasn’t as hot,” Moosbrugger said. “People tend to hang out downtown longer when it’s cool.

“We have more businesses so the overall pie is larger, but it also keeps people downtown.”

For the first couple of years, ArtPrize was noted for bringing local residents out in support of the event and reintroducing downtown to a lot of people from the area who hadn’t been there in awhile.

Indeed, ArtPrize has given a large number of local residents who used to avoid the downtown a new reason to visit. During those visits, it’s likely locals have found new value in the plethora of businesses that have popped up during the past decade — and they will help sustain downtown’s vibrancy with regular return visits, Moosbrugger said.

Moosbrugger said taking an overall look at ArtPrize would show a visitors’ demographic that is vastly different than a decade ago. It continues to change every year, he said. Last year, Grand Rapidians made up only 13.3 percent of the spectators, with 36.8 percent living in Kent or Ottawa counties.

“The people who are engaged — it’s a whole different look than it was 10 years ago,” he said. “And as the event has grown, the locals tend to hide and the tourists take over and frequent our facilities.”

Whether they come from locals or tourists, the dollars spent make a difference for downtown businesses. The Arena District encourages its 23-member restaurants to be art venues. Exhibiting art entries means the restaurants must be open for lunch whether they normally are or not. Adding new hours introduces the restaurants to a whole new subset of clients.

Art can give visitors a reason to go into a restaurant even when it’s not normal lunch or dinner hours. A quick glance at the menu may reel new visitors in for an appetizer or a drink, or hook them into making a future visit for a meal.

“We always encourage (the restaurants) to jump in with art,” Moosbrugger said. “It’s great exposure and it’s a lot of business they wouldn’t normally see.”

The entire city is better collectively when restaurants and storefronts are busy, and show visitors — and residents — that downtown is worth revisiting. Future weekend trips are a possibility for nearly 41 percent of last year’s visitors, who came from somewhere in Michigan. Approximately 7.9 percent came from outside of the Mitten State.

The Anderson Economic Group study found ArtPrize was the primary reason to visit Grand Rapids for 72.7 percent of visitors. Those visitors hopefully will return for another vacation, Moosbrugger said, as they see the value in the entertainment and cultural establishments, such as the various museums and attractions, and in events.

“The more of a cohesive group of businesses, the more likely the visitors are to come back,” he said. “It’s such substantial exposure, we can’t say enough about it.”

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