Convention Business Starts Strong

January 30, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — At least another 195,600 people will be strolling through downtown starting next month through March 2010.

A minimum of 95 conventions will take place at DeVos Place over those seven years and the attendees of those meetings and tradeshows will nearly equal the city’s population. Then there is also the chance that another 117,750 delegates will join them over that period, if the 62 conventions that are tentatively booked for DeVos Place sign on the dotted line.

George Helmstead, vice president of sales for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the 95 meetings that have been booked are worth nearly $37 million to the local economy. He added that the 62 maybes have the potential to add another $20.3 million to the coffer.

Twenty-seven of the 95 for-sure conventions are booked for this year. These bookings will bring nearly 51,000 visitors who will spend almost $10.5 million while they’re here.

The average attendance at each convention this year will be 1,885, and the total outside dollars spent here from each meeting will average $388,238.

The largest group coming in 2004 will be the 6,000 delegates of the Wesleyan Church Corp. coming in June. The group is expected to spend roughly $1.5 million during its visit.

The smallest groups booked this year have 350 delegates. Both the Michigan Society of Association Executives and the Michigan Rural Water Association will bring that many people to their meetings in July and March, respectively.

Six of the 62 tentative conventions are for this year. The largest of those is the Michigan Republican State Committee meeting, which would bring 3,000 GOPers here for two days in May. If the Republicans do come, they are expected to spend a little more than $85,000 over those 48 hours.

As for the building’s first month, Sandy Thomley of SMG reported that there were only five days in December with nothing going on and no one either moving in or out of DeVos Place.

“We were continually amazed at how efficiently the loading docks got everything in and out,” she said. “We did full banquets and we did everything in the first month.”

“The move ins and move outs are going very well,” said SMG general manager Rich MacKeigan, who noted that the building hosted two shows at the same time last month.

The Midwest Industrial Woodworking Expo, the first tradeshow held in DeVos Place, was the city’s largest event of its type. It drew 2,000 exhibitors and more than 6,000 visitors on Dec. 5-6 to the building, with attendees coming from 36 states, Canada and even Austria. The expo’s attendance figure topped previous shows by at least 25 percent.

According to SMG, the firm that manages DeVos Place, the public grand opening on Dec. 20 brought over 18,000 local residents into the building.

“I think we can rest assured that we achieved what we wanted to do,” said Lew Chamberlin, Convention and Arena Authority board member.

“Every customer that has been in that building has had great things to say,” added Helmstead.

Trade Shows Inc., which booked the woodworking expo at DeVos Place, will be getting back $25,000 of the $45,000 contribution it made to get the exhibit space ready in time for the show. The accelerated construction schedule, which allowed the space to open five weeks earlier than planned, was to have cost $275,000.

But $100,000 of that amount was pegged for overtime and it wasn’t needed, so Trade Shows of Claremont, N.C., will have part of its donation returned. The rest of those dollars will go to the CAA and the CVB.   

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