A Place At The Table

GRAND RAPIDS — At the Feb. 1 event to celebrate the final construction and dedication of the now year-old DeVos Place, “Grand Finale…It’s Just The Beginning,” the 2,500-person gala will host a number of faces not often seen on the $100-a-plate dinner circuit.

“I’ve been to a number of these fundraising dinners in the last couple of months, and you always see the same cast of characters,” said Peter Secchia, Grand Action’s dedication committee chair. “There is this cadre of people who will buy a table and fill it with their staff or family or friends, and then there is a big group of people who don’t buy a table because they don’t know what to do with table, people like me — we’re a two-person office, who would we fill it with?

“Then there are a lot of people that don’t really want to spend $1,000 or $5,000 to fill a table.”

Secchia and his committee believed the dedication would be remembered as a significant piece of Grand Rapids’ history, and as such, that last group should be in attendance.

“I wanted this event to have a different flavor,” he said. “We’re doing something that has never been done before and it’s a shock to me how well it’s gone over.”

Grand Action has opted to sell tickets for the event in a unique package designed around providing seats for the diverse community, neighborhood and nonprofit organizations and leaders of the Grand Rapids area.

While patrons may purchase single $100 tickets or 10-plate tables for $1,000, Secchia’s committee is offering options to buy “Community Pillar” or “Patron” tables that allow patrons to sponsor other organizations’ attendance at the event. Respectively five and two-table packages, donors have the option of giving back as many tables as they like to the committee for distribution among the community.

“We’ll reinvest those other four tables. We’ll give them to community groups, neighborhood associations, police officers, teachers,” Secchia said. “By inviting these groups we’ll impact a whole new segment of the community that wouldn’t normally be at an event like this who will leave thinking what a wonderful city this is.

“If you have all these people feeling the spirit of the community and they are excited about public/private partnerships and respect for philanthropy, they’ll go out into the community and help make these things happen.”

The idea has been a hit.

Secchia sent out an e-mail on Nov. 19 explaining the idea to committee members and a handful of patrons, with the intention to draft a formal solicitation letter to be sent in early December.

But by the time the now “first come, first serve” letter went out on Dec. 9, 188 tables had been purchased, with another 19 committed, from a total of 210.

“I’m very impressed with table sales so far,” said Mark Murray, president of Grand Valley State University and table sales co-chair. “We were nearly sold out on word of mouth and some early sales calls. This for the biggest event in many years for West Michigan.”

Of those tables, well over half had been purchased under the Community Pillar option, opening up as many as 105 tables to the community.

“I’m even more impressed by the commitment to gather leaders from all over West Michigan,” Murray said. “Including so many leaders who sometimes don’t get the recognition they deserve — those who run the nonprofits, teachers, police officers and so many other who make this region great.

“We won’t be able to honor them all, but we’re pleased we can invite quite a few to join the celebration.”

Secchia has opened somewhat of a Pandora’s box for himself and his staff, however, as they must now decide how best to distribute the tables among a still-growing list of deserving individuals and organizations.

“We’ve got 105 groups on a list with 20 neighborhood associations,” Secchia said. “We want to involve more diversity from the community like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Then we’ve got the Grand Rapids library…I mean museum,” Secchia said, turning to his assistant. “Hey, Monica, add the Grand Rapids Public Library to that list of potentials.”

The dedication will be held in the 40,000-square-foot Steelcase Ballroom, the largest ballroom in the Midwest, and a historical picture will be taken to commemorate the event.

With construction set to conclude roughly 24 hours before the event, the dedication will mark the first event in the finished DeVos Place.

Entertainment will be provided by comedian Fred Travalena.

The event is not aimed at fundraising; Grand Action’s costs per plate are $102.    

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