Return of the ‘Roaring ’20s’? Grand Rapids venue leader thinks it could happen

GRAND RAPIDS, me. (WOOD) – When it comes to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the travel and tourism industries, “devastating” is on the lips of Grand Rapids event executives.

But the people behind Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, and other events and gatherings around town are determined to relax.

“I’ve had five goals in my career … and I’ve never seen anything like the way I see it here, and that’s the ‘we’re going to get through this’ spirit,” said Doug Small, President and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids said.

It’s a big hill to climb. David Lorenz of Pure Michigan tourism campaign says employment in the industry has fallen 35% nationwide since the pandemic, more than any other industry. At the current pace, travel and tourism are not expected to fully recover until 2025.

GRAND RAPIDS ” DEVASTATING ” ECONOMIC LOSSES

The numbers are grim at Grand Rapids too. Assuming venues don’t return to normal operations until September, Rich MacKeigan, ASM Global’s regional general manager, says more than 1,000 events have been scrapped for Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall since the shutdown began.

The Van Andel Arena was the last of four venues across the country to host a concert on March 10, 2020, according to Lauren Daigel’s performance Rolling Stone. Since then, the city’s largest venues have lost 2.25 million guests and a staggering amount of revenue – 97.15% for Van Andel Arena and 99.5% for DeVos Place.

“It was devastating to our industry globally and locally,” said MacKeigan.

The losses have impacted the local economy, which, according to MacKeigan, has missed well over $ 100 million from the discarded events at the arena and DeVos Place.

Evette Pittman, special events manager at Grand Rapids, said the result for the city “hurts to say it out loud” as 70% fewer public events have been allowed since the pandemic, resulting in a 96% visitor loss.

The number of people drawn to Grand Rapids by events in the city rose from 1.2 million in 2019 to just 44,000 in 2020.
“This is truly a devastating loss to our local economy,” said Pittman.

She says lower income groups were disproportionately affected as the events organized by the city were free. Companies also felt the blow.

“Local events are jobs for electricians, sign shops, florists, restaurants, caterers and bars and they add money to our local economy. Local events build an emotional connection and engagement that is difficult to quantify. When events happen, our city is alive, tourists visit and people spend money here, ”she explained.

Similarly, Experience Grand Rapids, where 406 canceled conventions and group meetings resulted in direct community spending of $ 187 million. Some of these events have been moved to other states where larger meeting rooms have at least partially reopened.

Doug Small, president and CEO of Grand Rapids, says the lost events meant more than 170,000 missed nights in hotel rooms.

With less hotel tax revenue to fund Experience Grand Rapids, the group has cut a third of its employees on a permanent basis.

‘ROARING’ 20s’ REVISED?

However, this is not the end of Experience Grand Rapids. According to Small, the organization has rebooked dozens of groups that were previously canceled.

“We’re not lying down,” said Small. “We worked just as hard, if not harder, than before.”
MacKeigan takes a positive Prediction by Marc Geiger, formally from the William Morris Endeavor event agency.

“He equated what we are going through now with 1918 and the Spanish flu and the creation of that time, the advent of the roaring 20s. And he thinks, and I’m 100% there based on what I hear, 2022 and beyond will be a decade of the 20s of roar, ”MacKeigan told members of The Grand Rapids Business Club Tuesday.

MacKeigan, whose company oversees activities at Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place, is basing its prediction for Grand Rapids in part on upcoming events.

“The traffic on our calendar with artists and agents currently holding data is huge for 2022. It’s absolutely huge,” he said.

MacKeigan expects Michigan’s tourism to come back a little faster than its travel industry. “Unless the unforeseen happens,” he continues to hope that the arena will open at full indoor capacity this October, a month later than LiveNation forecast.

“It’s a question I get asked a lot, probably mostly by my wife, since I received a mohawk for charity on April 29th last year, and this is the last time I had my hair cut. So I told my staff that I wasn’t going to get my hair cut until we sold out in the arena, ”said McKeigan.

Haircuts are likely to be more regular afterward, if his prediction is correct.

“I’m very, very confident that ’22 and the next five to ten years will be a very busy concert market,” he said.

TRENDS TO STAY

Some sports groups are already considering and trying new models to bring fans back safely.

MacKeigan pointed to the NBA Allow only vaccinated sections within arenas as well as Albany, New York testing a digital vaccination certificate Kind for admission to professional sporting events.

“I’m not saying where it’s going, it seems that the price of admission is a vaccination. And when we get herd immunity through vaccination, things will open up, ”MacKeigan said.

Pittman and Small agreed that the key to recovery is more gun shots. DeVos Place is already doing its part to speed up the process by hosting a vaccination clinic that set a national daily record Monday with 12,000 shots.

All three event leaders say trends created or accelerated by the pandemic could also help Grand Rapids recover, including support for major redevelopments like the 30-acre riverside plan revealed last month from Grand Action 2.0.

Pittman said the city should build on the unprecedented collaboration that brought about the Bridge series of events and social zone creation through the creation of an arts council.

Both Small and MacKeigan said that live streaming can coexist with in-person attendance, giving venues another way to increase attendance and sales while serving those who are yet to experience an event.

According to Small, streaming can also interrupt attendance at events, allowing groups too large for Grand Rapids’ venues to consider the city.

“I think there is an opportunity to turn this into new business and we will try to do that,” said Small.

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