Focus, Arts & Entertainment, and Travel & Tourism

City’s venues attract name performers, throngs of visitors

Collaborative effort ensures varied entertainment options thrive.

July 24, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Van Andel Concert
Performers such as country artist Luke Bryan, who recently sold out two shows at Van Andel Arena, are part of a good entertainment mix in Grand Rapids. Courtesy SMG

A collaborative effort put forth by the entire city is the main reason Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall frequently rank well ahead of similar venues in other cities.

The three facilities regularly are named to “top” lists from across the globe, often beating out venues in cities much larger than Grand Rapids.

Much of that success likely stems from the huge collaborative commitment from the civic and county government, philanthropic efforts, destination marketing teams, hospitality industry and the venue management teams, said Rich MacKeigan, SMG regional general manager for DeVos Place, DeVos Performance Hall and Van Andel Arena.

“Many clients come in and are surprised at how in-sync the entire city is,” MacKeigan said. “That effort really helps us over-deliver, in a sense.”

Of course, SMG management isn’t only trying to impress touring artists who pass through town. There’s another set of more regular customers to please: the fans.

Fans seem to be impressed by the venues, as well, as both Van Andel Arena and DeVos Performance Hall landed in the top 100 for ticket sales globally for venue type, according to Pollstar.

Van Andel Arena sold 166,880 tickets in 2014, placing it 79th globally and ahead of such well known venues as Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena and Orlando’s Amway Center. Ticket sales, however, are well below famous venues such as Madison Square Garden, which sold 793,395 tickets, and the No. 1 arena, The O2 in London, which sold more than 1.8 million tickets.

DeVos Performance Hall was the 89th overall theater in global ticket sales with 72,459. Radio City Music Hall in New York City sold 1.1 million tickets and was No. 2 overall, behind Mexico City’s Auditorio Nacional. Detroit’s Fox Theater sold 153,768 tickets, which placed it at No. 40.

DeVos Performance Hall is helped greatly by a local arts community that helps make it the only venue in the state with four professional arts groups: Grand Rapids Symphony, Broadway Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Ballet and Opera Grand Rapids.

MacKeigan said many cities similar in size to Grand Rapids or larger often cut those types of programs when budget constraints are apparent.

Still, the performance hall, just like Van Andel Arena, draws national shows ranging from concerts and children’s shows to stand-up comedians.

“We aren’t a must-play destination, but we’re close,” MacKeigan said. “We are a great draw, and it’s often a good return for an act.”

MacKeigan said Grand Rapids’ location is helpful. Not only does it sit between Chicago and Detroit, but Grand Rapids also is a six- to eight-hour drive from other similar-sized cities such as Toronto, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis and Cleveland.

That’s the amount of time many touring acts like to see for a drive overnight, he said.

Van Andel has seen a number of sold-out shows in the past five years, including annual stops by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Other sold-out shows have included performances by Elton John, Bob Seger, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, comedian Kevin Hart and many country music concerts. The country shows include several repeat sell-outs, including two each by Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood.

“We’re a strong country market and always have been,” MacKeigan said. “It attracts really well here and there are more of the acts now.”

Still, sold-out shows aren’t the best way to gauge how well a concert does when it comes to making money, MacKeigan said, referring to the adage, “There are no bad bands, just bad deals.”

He said a concert can make money on 4,000 tickets or lose money on 8,000 tickets.

Van Andel has ranked as high as No. 37 among arenas of all sizes globally — in 2005 — but MacKeigan said it’s all about how the puzzle pieces fit together for acts to come through Grand Rapids. He said those puzzle pieces also can affect the financials, and make some years appear worse than others.

“I don’t know when Mötley Crüe or Michael Bublé are coming to town,” he said, referring to a pair of shows that traditionally draw well in Grand Rapids.

DeVos Place holds its own when it comes to conventions, hosting 489 events last year and attracting more than 556,827 people through its doors.

Among the biggest conventions to come to town in 2014 were the American Quilters Society, the Adventist-Laymen’s Services & Industries International, the Michigan Music Conference and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

The quilters conference brought more than 21,500 people to Grand Rapids with a total spending of $7.3 million. The Adventist conference saw nearly $5 million in spending, while both the music conference and black law enforcement conferences saw nearly $4 million in spending.

All three venues are long past their “brand new” stage, but MacKeigan said they all continue to attract clients and fans alike, with no drop-offs in sight.

“The honeymoon is over, but it continues to be a rocking marriage,” MacKeigan said.

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