Racial Mix A Boost For GR Operations

April 13, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — “Faith” and the “fighter” are two keys to the future of business activity at DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena and the racial mix that attend events at both buildings.

The fighter is Floyd Mayweather, super lightweight boxing champion of the world, adept dancer and part-time professional wrestler. Recently the Grand Rapids native picked up the operational tab for the National Golden Gloves Championships, a first-time event for the city that will unfold early next month in the convention center.

The West Michigan Sports Commission accepted a check from Mayweather for $140,000, money that takes the local Golden Gloves organization off the fiscal hook for the national tournament. Commission Vice Chairman Wayman Britt, also an assistant county administrator and member of the boxer’s local advisory board, negotiated the deal with the fighter’s representatives.

In February, the champ’s nonprofit foundation staged a weekend of activities downtown and at the DeltaPlex Arena & Conference Center in Walker, and is rumored to be the driving force behind a yet-to-be revealed event that will take place in early July on downtown’s streets.

For Convention and Arena Authority Chairman Steven Heacock, Mayweather’s recent involvement with his hometown holds promise that one of the initiatives he set for the board can take a giant step forward.

Heacock has wanted for the past few years to get more people of color into the arena and convention center — as employees, as vendors that supply the buildings with goods and services, and as attendees of events. He hired Skot Welch of Diversity Management Services and Joe Jones of Strategic Communications Group to point the CAA in the right direction to accomplish those goals, and he asked board member Clif Charles and CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan to meet regularly with Welch and Jones to map out tactics.

“They’ve done incredible work,” said Heacock. “I’ve got to believe that we had more people of color in the buildings last year than we had in previous years.”

But Heacock said the CAA needs to “own” a big event each year that strongly appeals to minorities, and he is hoping Mayweather’s foundation can help the board do that.

The other “F” word — faith — is what the Convention and Visitors Bureau is hanging its hat on to increase traffic to DeVos Place. A few years back, the bureau began concentrating its sales efforts on hobby groups and religious conferences. The payout for the latter endeavor could be coming next January when the Religious Conference Management Association meets here.

Bureau Executive Vice President George Helmstead has referred to the meeting as the “Super Bowl” of religious conferences because 3,000 religious meeting planners belong to the RCMA, representing about 1,000 denominations and religious organizations, so if they have a successful stay in Grand Rapids Jan. 27-30, they will be more likely to bring their groups’ meetings here.

“This is the opportunity for us to catapult ourselves into being a host city for religious conferences,” said Bureau Vice President Janet Korn.

Korn said the CVB’s marketing effort to RCMA members continues, even with the conference booked. She said the bureau is using direct mail and buying ads in the RCMA’s monthly newsletter to further impress the meeting planners.

The CVB has projected that up to 500 planners and other representatives will attend the conference, which is also billed as the world’s largest trade show for religious meetings, and the bureau feels $15 million in new meetings will be generated from the four-day event.

To show the importance of the conference for the city, the CVB created a host committee for the RMCA meeting. Former Cornerstone University President Rex Rogers heads that committee.

“I can’t think of a better liaison for us than Rex Rogers. He speaks their language,” said CAA board member and longtime bureau board member Joseph Tomaselli.

“We’ve got serious legwork in place. We’re going to put a serious dent in that market,” said MacKeigan, also SMG regional general manager, of the religious niche. “It’s a huge event for us.”

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