CVB hungry for event for restaurants

March 6, 2010
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When Convention and Visitors Bureau President Doug Small presents his organization’s business plan for its inaugural Restaurant Week to the Downtown Development Authority on Wednesday, he feels the board will embrace the idea and, more importantly, fund the event.

“They’ve never really had the opportunity to specifically promote just that segment of the district because they work on behalf of everything. So when they heard our idea to do it in the first place, they felt this would be a great opportunity for them to really help elevate the status and reputation of the fine restaurants they have in the downtown area,” said Small.

DDA members tentatively agreed last month to award $25,000 to the CVB for Restaurant Week, and have offered to make their approval permanent this week if they like the event’s business plan. Funds for the award would come from the board’s non-tax account, which gets its revenue from investment interest, parking charges and rental fees. The account has a budget of $1.12 million this year. Spending from it totaled $166,000 at the end of January.

Many of the restaurants in the DDA district are independently owned and are likely to be interested in learning more about the event. The CVB would use the funds to talk with owners about participating. The bureau can’t use that money to recruit restaurants outside of the downtown district because state law bans the DDA from spending dollars beyond its boundary.

The funding restriction doesn’t seem to matter to Small, however, because he doesn’t see Restaurant Week as a downtown-only event — or even as a Grand-Rapids-only event.

“Because our charge is to promote and sell Kent County as a whole, we told the DDA that we would be inviting other restaurants to participate and that would be an investment on behalf of the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” he said, while adding that the bureau would seek sponsors for the event.

“The good news is the DDA sees their investment as an opportunity to not only help get this thing up and running; I think they also feel, because of the number of restaurants within the downtown area, that they’re going to have a large stake in this.”

Although the dates haven’t been set, the event will run in November and in conjunction with the Wine and Food Festival — which is set for DeVos Place Nov. 18-20. As it now stands, Restaurant Week actually will be longer than a week. Small said it could run for nine days, from Nov.12-20. “That’s one of the options. I just feel that if we cover two weekends, the impact for the restaurants is going to be much better,” he said.

Small also said the bureau plans to tie as many cultural attractions to Restaurant Week as it can and to have as many activities going on as possible to help boost attendance for everyone involved.

The idea is to have each restaurant offer a three-course meal at an identical price, so no restaurant would have a price advantage. In Denver, where Small worked before coming here, restaurants charged $26.40 for a meal last year; 298,000 meals were sold for a gross take of $7.9 million. The Mile High City event ran for two weeks this year because of consumer response. Small said Ann Arbor is considering holding its event twice a year, while Dayton has committed to multiple events each year.

“If you look at the size of a community, Dayton is very similar to ours. I’m doing some research on theirs now. It is much like Denver on a smaller scale. It continues to grow and gets better each year, and that’s what we really feel will happen here,” he said.

Small said the Denver event has a tie-in with the culinary arts college at Johnson & Wales University, and the bureau wants to have the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College involved in its event.

“We’re still smoothing out the details there. A good share of restaurants in this town have active chefs that came out of that program or became owners of restaurants. I think there is a good tie-in there, and I think if we have the potential to grow as a destination, we think the culinary aspect of the community has to grow with it,” said Small.

“And we want to make certain that talent stays here and continues to do that.”

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