The feat becomes even more amazing when it’s known that the site is one of the busiest intersections in the central business district: Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue.
The fleet was arriving during the day, too, not in the middle of the night when no one was around.
Things could hardly have gone smoother when 2,000 exhibitors from 36 states and Canada began hauling millions of dollars worth of equipment — some of it machinery weighing tons — to DeVos Place in late November for the Midwest Industrial Woodworking Expo.
And they left the way they came in, quietly without causing gridlock downtown.
“The move in and move out went very, very well,” said Steve Wilson, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“What we observed with the woodworkers is that it took half the time than it did in the old building,” he added.
The first trucks arrived on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, eight days ahead of the two-day Expo’s opening date on Dec. 4.
“But the majority of the movement started on Saturday,” said Steve Miller, SMG director of sales, who coordinated the logistics with the event’s booking firm Trade Show Inc. and the city’s traffic safety and police departments.
“So we actually had Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It was five days of move-in time and then we had the show on Thursday and Friday, the 4th and 5th,” he said.
The move-out started right after the Expo closed and continued that weekend.
By early Monday, the building was empty. Clearing the exhibit space quickly was important because the building’s second convention, the Michigan Horticultural Society with its 4,500 delegates, was moving in later that day.
“With us having 12 loading docks now, it made it real nice to be able to pull in and back right up. Or if it was a flatbed truck, they simply put it right on the floor and our decorator had a crew right on the floor that just unloaded it and put it on the spot,” said Miller.
In contrast, the Grand Center only had two docks. So getting traffic in and out of the convention center is no longer a logistics nightmare.
“It was much more efficient because of the design of the facility,” Miller said.
Each exhibitor was responsible for getting its equipment to the Expo and most hired a common carrier to do that.
That resulted in 126 semi-trailers and 142 vans coming into downtown with large machinery and other goods for the show, a record number of delivery vehicles for a convention in Grand Rapids.
Miller wasn’t sure how many semis serviced the big shows at the old Grand Center, but he thought the top number was 80. So the traffic for the Expo was at least 50 percent greater than what the city had experienced in the past.
But they knew that more trucks than ever were coming and had time to prepare for the extra traffic. Miller said SMG worked closely with traffic safety, headed by Pat Bush, to come up with a plan that wouldn’t close downtown streets or create massive backups.
And it worked.
Semis were sent to Scribner Avenue, a one-way street just west of DeVos Place between Pearl and Bridge streets, where they lined up in the right lane. SMG had security personnel armed with two-way radios at the loading docks and along Scribner, and they told drivers when a dock opened.
A truck would turn right from Scribner and go west on Bridge Street to the DeVos Place docks on the building’s north end and the unloading would begin. Other trucks staged on Scribner would then move up in line and wait for the signal that another dock had opened.
Another part of the plan would have closed the right lane of eastbound Michigan Street for long periods of time. But that wasn’t needed very often, as traffic pretty much flowed freely from the highway to Scribner.
“The move-in took place every day from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.,” said Miller.
Machinery and equipment, however, weren’t the only items that had to reach DeVos Place.
Conventioneers had to get there, too, and, unlike the semis, they couldn’t be stacked on Scribner Avenue. Of the 6,000 who came to the Expo, most drove and needed parking space.
They all couldn’t park in the Government Center ramp, located across Monroe Avenue from DeVos Place.
So Trade Show, the North Carolina firm that booked the building for the Expo, contacted Gail Andrus Travel to set up a shuttle service that took attendees from two downtown parking ramps on Ottawa Avenue to the convention center.
“When they got off the highway, they were directed to the lots, because we knew the Government Center ramp was going to be full,” said Miller.
“They simply jumped on a shuttle bus, had their little two- or three-minute ride over there, and we dropped them right at the front door.”
Miller gave plenty of credit to Keith Eidson, president of Trade Shows, for how smoothly everything went. He said Eidson booked the building for more days than promoters usually do, and that meant there was more time for the move-in to take place.
“It went very well,” said Miller of the Expo’s logistics. “It really did. It went very well.”