Broadway GR takes center stage

October 14, 2011
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For the past few years, Broadway Grand Rapids has told the Convention and Arena Authority that the booking policy at DeVos Performance Hall needed to be changed in order for it to bring the hottest touring shows here. The organization said having the ability to set aside at least two consecutive weeks of performances in the hall, which it shares with three other arts tenants, was necessary to land the big fish.

Well, CAA members baited the hook with a new booking policy that will allow Broadway GR to do just that, at least for the current show season, because the policy will be looked at again next summer.

“It does create some concerns, and that’s why I’m requesting a one-year review of the policy,” said SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan, who negotiated the new policy for the CAA with the four tenants. Previously, the booking strategy was reviewed every three years.

“I think what we’ve got is a good booking policy,” MacKeigan said.

Even though Opera Grand Rapids President David Bellamy, Grand Rapids Symphony Board Chairman Stephen Waterbury and Grand Rapids Symphony Immediate Past Chairman Larry Robson expressed support for the new policy, they also were concerned about how letting Broadway GR have the building to itself for weeks at a time would affect their schedules and bottom lines.

Bellamy said opera patrons have become accustomed to having its three performances scheduled in October, February and May, and the new policy might put those dates in jeopardy. “The changing schedule makes it very hard for us,” he said.

Robson pointed out all four arts groups have been designated by the CAA as the hall’s primary tenants, affording them the first shot to reserve dates, and the symphony books the most dates in the building. “I understand the word ‘compromise,’” he said, “but I think the word we’re dealing with here is ‘principle.’”

As for Waterbury, he suggested the CAA should restrict multiple-week bookings to two a season. “We need to remember that our current policy has created jobs in Grand Rapids,” he said before the board ratified the new policy. “The local art organizations have been treated fairly.”

Broadway GR Executive Director Mike Lloyd said the change could lead his organization into a positive cash flow situation because it will have better dates in the building. He said season-ticket sales have risen this year to 3,000, up from 2,200 last year, and group sales have gone up by 50 percent. The scheduling change actually went into effect for the current show season, even though the CAA hadn’t officially approved it then.

“It’s going to bring solvency to Broadway Grand Rapids, and it’s going to bring more people to DeVos Place,” said Lloyd. “What you have done here is not minor. I want to thank you for giving us a chance to stand here.”

The Grand Rapids Ballet, the hall’s fourth tenant, didn’t appear before the CAA, but Lloyd said ballet executives had agreed to rearrange the dates for its annual “Nutcracker” performances so Broadway GR could schedule “Les Miserables” in the building.

The performance hall hosted 156 shows, drew more than 174,000 customers and was worth $1.07 million in event income to the CAA during the last fiscal year. The hall’s income turned out to be 22 percent of the $4.8 million DeVos Place had in event revenue for the year.

“As I hear it, everybody is supportive of this change as long as it’s reviewed in a year,” said Lew Chamberlin, chairman of the CAA Operations Committee.

“The key to this is, frankly, the trust and confidence people have in Rich MacKeigan, and we share that confidence,” said CAA Chairman Steven Heacock of the SMG manager who is also CAA executive director.

“Perhaps the fact that everyone is nervous about the policy means that it’s right,” said GR Mayor George Heartwell, also a CAA board member.

The CAA also heard that the finishing touches were being put on the International Wine, Beer and Food Festival, an annual event the board co-sponsors with Showspan Inc. The show will again be held in the Steelcase Ballroom inside DeVos Place, from Nov. 17-19. It will be open for two more hours than previously, running until 10 p.m. Nov. 17 and 18 instead of 9 p.m.

The word “beer” has been added this year to the show’s name; 150 craft beers will be available for sampling in the area that was once part of the Welsh Auditorium lobby. The beers debuted at last year’s festival, which drew about 10,000 consumers over the three days, 8 percent more than the previous year.

“We’re looking for a few more booths to come in,” said Henri Boucher, Showspan vice president. “We want to bring more people in. We need to find a few more places for people to sit down.”

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