A Grand Party

September 29, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — When members of the Downtown Development Authority and the Grand Action Committee decided in 1994 to build an arena on eight acres of city-owned land at Fulton Street and Ottawa Avenue, they had a hunch that Van Andel Arena would be a model for fiscal stability.

And they were right.

In its first fiscal year, the arena had roughly $4.3 million in total revenue. After its 10th fiscal year was completed at the end of June, total income to the arena was listed at $4.8 million in an unaudited report released in early August.

In the building’s 10 fiscal years — and even though the first was a nine-month year — the arena has turned a surplus of more than $1 million each year. The surplus hit $1.22 million this past year. On top of that, the building has served as a catalyst for countless millions of dollars in many different types of investments from the private sector, dozens of projects that have popped up near the arena since it opened on Oct. 8, 1996.

Just two of these include the Gilmore Collection’s The BOB at 20 Monroe Ave. NW and the collaborative effort between Rockford Companies, the Peter Secchia family real estate firm SIBSCO LLC and the Richard DeVos family’s RDV Corp. for the Cherry Street Landing development a few steps south of the arena.

So with all the good that has come from the building, a celebration is in order.

SMG, which oversees daily operations at the arena for the Convention and Arena Authority, created a “10 for 10” list of events as a six-week birthday party. Three already have played the arena, starting with the sold-out performance by Eric Clapton on Sept. 21, but seven more are coming, right through the Nov. 2 concert by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The celebration’s highlights, though, occur this weekend. For starters, SMG will host an open house at the arena from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The event is free, but tickets are required. Go to vanandelarena.com to find out where tickets are available, and for a list of the activities that will take place and the prizes that will be given away.

Then on Sunday, Oct. 8, Kristi Yamaguchi returns to the arena as part of an ice-skating program. It was Yamaguchi who helped christen the arena 10 years ago to the day in the building’s first official event, “Grand Entrance.” World champion Yuka Sato and Canadian gold medalist Alissa Czisny will be among the skaters on the arena’s ice. Tickets are $20 and include all-you-can-eat concessions.

And the concessions will be different this year. SMG, which has managed the building since it opened, began managing the food and beverage operations at the building on July 1. The new contract gives the CAA 3 percent more revenue than the board had in its pact with Centreplate, which operated the arena concessions and catering business from 1996 until the end of June. Concession revenue is important to the arena and was worth about $1.2 million the past fiscal year.

Over two typically slow months this summer, July and August, gross concession revenue was only at $53,400, or about $30,000 below budget and about $100,000 under last year’s two-month figure. But certain types of events create more sales at the concession stands. The upcoming Def Leppard and Journey concert is expected to draw a crowd that will spend more on food, drink and show-related merchandise than most, even if the concert isn’t a sellout.

“It’s just a function of the crowd mix,” said SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan of concession sales.

Food and beverage revenue will likely begin to rise when the Grand Rapids Griffins open its American Hockey League home schedule on Oct. 14.

“Once we get into the Griffins season, the expectations will obviously go up,” said SMG Director of Finance Chris Machuta.

The horseshoe-shaped arena cost $75.2 million to build and it seats 10,836 for hockey, 11,367 for basketball, and up to 12,321 for concerts. The building’s gross floor area is 280,000 square feet; the roof is 96 feet above the floor and it spans 286 feet. There are 44 suites in the arena, with 28 of those at the concourse level.

More than 641,000 went through the arena turnstiles during the 131 events held in the last fiscal year. While home games from the Griffins, the Grand Rapids Rampage and other sporting events drew 46 percent of ticket buyers to the arena, they accounted for 31 percent of the arena’s total event income.

Concert-goers accounted for 25 percent of total event income last year, even though they were only 16 percent of the total attendees in FY06. 

Ten for Ten

Three of the 10 events marking Van Andel Arena’s 10th anniversary have already played the building, with the circus having packed up and left town on Sunday, but the key commemorative weekend starts this Saturday with an open house and continues Sunday with an ice show.

Even after this weekend is history, though, the celebration will continue into November with sporting events and concerts.

Here are the 10 events that mark the anniversary celebration:

Date                      Event
Sept. 21                Eric Clapton concert
Sept. 22- 23          Professional Bull Riders rodeo
Sept. 27 - Oct. 1   Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Oct. 7                   10th Anniversary Community Open House
Oct. 8                  10th Anniversary Celebration on Ice
Oct. 18                Meijer Basketball Classic: Pistons vs. Timberwolves
Oct. 24                Def Leppard & Journey concert
Oct. 25                Grand Rapids Griffins vs. Rochester Americans
Nov. 1                 MSU vs. GVSU basketball exhibition
Nov. 2                 Red Hot Chili Peppers concert

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