Booking Policy Stays Booked

GRAND RAPIDS — There wasn’t a need to read between the lines last week as the Convention and Arena Authority decided to extend the current DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall booking policy for another 18 months.

“The policy hasn’t worked to everyone’s complete satisfaction, but it has worked for everyone,” said CAA Chairman Steven Heacock.

“I’m convinced and absolutely certain that we’ve had a complete review,” he added.

When the board adopted the policy for

DeVos Place

more than three years ago, there was concern among the producers of public shows and the Convention and Visitors Bureau that one of them might not get a fair shake at reserving space. But SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan said both groups have been able to thrive under the current policy and both are vital to the building’s financial existence.

The public, or consumer, shows — most of which are produced by Showspan Inc. — are generally held in the building from January through March. CVB President Steve Wilson has said that few associations hold meetings here during the winter and that most conventions in the city take place from spring through fall.

TSI Expos has booked the Midwest Industrial Woodworking Expo at

DeVos Place

for Nov. 3 and 4. It’s one of the largest tradeshows that will ever come to Grand Rapids, with representatives from more than 600 companies set to attend — and it’s held in the fall.

Conventions and tradeshows are expected to book 121 event days in the building during this fiscal year, meetings that have been projected to be worth $1.3 million in event revenue to the CAA and about 60,000 room nights to the local lodging industry.

Public shows are expected to lease the center for 40 event days, with most taking place in a 90-day window, and create nearly $780,000 in event revenue. Showspan produces the four biggest moneymakers: the auto, boat, home and garden, and sport and fishing shows.

“Those numbers are significant,” said MacKeigan of the receipts to the building and the local economy that come from the Showspan productions.

MacKeigan said Showspan asked for some revisions to the policy and that the firm was disappointed it didn’t get the changes it requested. He added that Showspan and the bureau were willing to work together to secure dates under the current policy.

MacKeigan said Broadway Theatre Guild had asked for changes to the performance hall policy that would allow it to book professional touring companies for more than a week at a time in the 2,400-seat theater. Scheduling multi-week runs of a show would reduce the cost of each performance for the guild and also would allow for more gate revenue.

But with the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Ballet Company and Opera Grand Rapids also needing dates, MacKeigan said that much time couldn’t be cleared for Broadway Theatre Guild at this time.

“This is an issue that won’t go away. They’re trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got,” he said.

With four active tenants and the other shows booked in the performance hall throughout the year — such as the Jerry Seinfeld performances last year — Heacock wondered if it was time to build another fine arts center downtown. But MacKeigan said a quality theater would cost $100 million to construct, and he didn’t think the city could afford to do that right now.

“You haven’t got enough dates to book enough Jerry Seinfelds to offset the cost,” he said. “I don’t think the community is ready to absorb that cost.”    

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