As Grand Rapids’ convention and meetings business continues its post-pandemic recovery, the public authority that oversees DeVos Place is launching a new feasibility study to expand the convention center and build a connected hotel.
The Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention Stadium Authority (CAA) reported at its meeting Friday that it has hired global consulting firm Hotel Valuation Services (HVS), based in Loveland, Colorado, to conduct an updated study of viability of hotels and expansion of the convention center starting in January.
Rich MacKeigan, regional manager for ASM Global, the company that manages Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place, said in a presentation to the CAA board of directors that HVS is the same group that completed a feasibility study on this topic in 2018.
MacKeigan said the market has changed after the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring new data.
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“They’ll take a look at the last study they did and then look at it through the lens of current conditions,” he said. Crain’s Business in Grand Rapids in an interview after the meeting.
He said the study will consider several factors. The first two are the status of local hotel room inventory and the current flow of meeting and convention business.
“Some of those changes are very market-specific: Some markets are coming out of this (pandemic) stronger than others,” he said. “So it’s about understanding where Western Michigan fits in.”
MacKeigan said Crain The study will also examine how much additional convention and meeting space is needed, where it could be located in relation to current facilities, the potential revenue effects of additional hotel and convention space, and a feasible timeline and budget for such projects.
In an interview before the meeting, CAA board president Rick Winn said the same sites are likely previously evaluated as potential options for expansion would be on the table for consideration in this updated study. include expanding north across Michigan Street or east across Monroe Avenue with an elevated walkway connecting the buildings, although both locations pose challenges as the former houses a US Post Office and the latter It is occupied by the government-owned Vandenberg Building.
“Nothing has happened with those sites. … It’s still like 2018,” Winn said.
Experience Grand Rapids officials who attended Friday’s meeting said Crain that Grand Rapids is losing convention business compared to cities it competes with, such as Columbus, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which recently added hundreds of hotel rooms attached to their convention centers, as well as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Louisville. .
“We booked a tremendous amount of business in the city, but we also turned away a tremendous amount,” said Mary Manier, vice president of sales and services for Experience Grand Rapids.
Experience Grand Rapids’ most recent sales report released in April found that a total of 481 individual meetings, sporting events and group tours drew 443,024 attendees to the region in 2022, restoring 92% of the number of groups that met in Grand Rapids compared to 2019. .
Doug Small, president and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, said the concern isn’t that downtown lacks rooms to accommodate that traffic (last year’s overall occupancy rate was only about 68% for hotels in the city). center) but the city lacks the right type of hotels. to attract event organizers.
“A meeting planner doesn’t want to put their people in a ’50 here and 20 there’ location when they know they can do it (all in one place),” he said. “There were a thousand (rooms) built in Columbus, and to give them those same 1,000, we have to use three hotels.”
Manier added that the newer hotels added downtown in the last five years also mostly lack meeting rooms.
“Meeting and convention hotels are different than limited service hotels, which are some of the newer ones that have rooms and don’t have meeting space,” he said.
Manier said he hopes the study will look at how much revenue is lost by turning away business because of inadequate convention and hotel space.
Kent County Commissioner Tom Antor raised a similar concern at the county’s board of commissioners meeting Wednesday afternoon, during which he voted against the county contributing $15 million to the amphitheater project. said the city Needs more convention space rather than another entertainment venue.
“We’re losing probably hundreds of millions of dollars in money on conferences and so on who want to come here but there’s no more room at the inn,” Antor said. “That is simply a fact and has been that way for quite some time. DeVos Place served a purpose, but people can’t find a building here anywhere to host events, it’s just not happening. … We’ve lost sight, we’re doing too many really interesting things, and we’re getting away from the things that generate revenue.”
Small said that while the 2018 feasibility study concluded the city needs a 400- to 500-room convention center hotel, he believes business demand now justifies an attached 600- to 800-room hotel.
He said he hopes the study will resolve questions about the cost of the hotel and how long it will take to break even once it is built.
MacKeigan said during Friday’s presentation that in addition to looking at hotel space, the feasibility study will also evaluate how much additional convention center square footage is needed, because it’s still an unknown variable.
“One probably begets the other, but that’s exactly why we’re doing this study and we’ll see what the outcome is,” he said.
MacKeigan said ASM Global will monitor the HVS study and report the results to the CAA at a future public meeting. He said that while there is no projected timeline for completion of the study, he assumes it will happen “pretty quickly, because a lot of the data is already there.”
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