Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park will use the results of its 2023 economic report released Monday as a “benchmark” for a broader strategy to drive more non-local visitor spending and more room stays in Kent County in the coming years. years.
The Grand Rapids Township-based nonprofit arts and horticulture destination, named last year as the nation’s best sculpture park by USA Today readers, released the findings of a 2023 economic study on Monday. study conducted by Grand Valley State University.
The report, based on visitor surveys and internal data, found that Meijer Gardens generated $138 million in economic activity in 2023, supporting 1,167 jobs and contributing $77.6 million to Kent County’s gross domestic product.
It also found that Meijer Gardens attracted an estimated record 755,000 visitors last year, up from 686,763 in 2022 and 328,539 in 2020, before its $115 million expansion had wrapped.
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Sixty-two per cent of last year’s visitors came from outside Kent County, while 38% were local.
The latest GVSU study on Meijer Gardens published in 2017 found that the destination generated $75.2 million in economic activity that year, and 86% of visitor spending came from people outside Kent County.
After adjusting for inflation, Meijer Gardens’ economic activity in Kent County increased about 44% between 2017 and 2023, according to calculations shared with Crain’s Business in Grand Rapids by GVSU report principal investigator Christian Glupker.
Charles Burke, who became Meijer Gardens’ new president and CEO in February 2023, said the organization commissioned the tracking study for several reasons. One of them was to measure the effects of COVID-19 on cultural visits and spending, as well as evaluate the return on investment of the 2017 Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love capital campaign, which funded the multi-phase expansion of the installation that concluded in 2022. .
“This (study) is the first look at ‘That campaign is working’ and it is having an amplifying effect in the region,” Burke said. “Looking at all the other wonderful transformation projects taking place in the region, from the amphitheater to the football stadium and other big projects, we wanted to make sure people remembered this 30-year-old institution that really brings a lot to the table.” influences our region.”
Burke called the $138 million in economic activity a “very significant number” for the institution founded in 1995.
“I think it’s a testament to the power of philanthropy, I think it’s a testament to the power of the vision of Fred and Lena and the entire Meijer family, and the community as a whole,” he said. “To have an institution that focuses on gardens, butterflies, amphitheater, (sculptures and) bringing people together to generate this type of deep and meaningful economic activity for the region, is a profound statement of ‘specialness.’ of our community. .”
As the new leader of Meijer Gardens, succeeding former president and CEO David Hooker, Burke said he wanted the study to be done now as part of a “broader matrix” of internal actions underway to give the nonprofit a “baseline” and “good metrics” as you build. your next strategic plan.
That plan will primarily seek to boost Meijer Gardens’ financial sustainability in addition to philanthropy, but Burke said there is also an opportunity to play a larger role in the county’s large-scale planning and visioning effort. Kent County 2050.
Al Vanderberg, Kent County Administrator/Comptroller, said Meijer Gardens is one of many organizations invited to help with Kent County 2050.
“Meijer Gardens is a major national attraction, and when you look at their history with conservation, art and preservation, they are going to be a very, very important player in this community in the future, so I think their voice is one of the most important voices that we want to harness… (to) be part of and help define the future.”
Burke said Meijer Gardens hopes to help by attracting people for longer stays and higher spending.
“Our long-term hope… is that we can take the institution from a three- to five-hour experience with a number of regular visitors among our members, to a three- or four-day experience, where we can take people to hotel rooms who spend time in Grand Rapids (and) spend time at other cultural institutions,” he said. “It’s part of a larger tapestry of interconnectedness.”
Burke said it’s too early to reveal what might be on the table internally to make his vision of increasing overnight stays in Kent County a reality, but the leadership team is brainstorming with the board, donors, volunteers and employees to examine the entire Meijer Gardens experience. , from exhibitions to events and concerts, to see what combination of adjustments could make people stay longer.
“All of these things are part of an algorithm that is creating a future strategic framework upon which to build our operations,” he said.
Glupker, the study’s lead researcher, said he was “really surprised” by the large number of visitors each time he stopped to check on his GVSU student researchers during the visitor interception survey period for this study, which was developed from June to August. last year.
“The place was absolutely buzzing mid-afternoon,” he said. “I am an Ottawa County resident and although I have young children and would love to visit Meijer Gardens (more often), it is a long trip for a 5 year old. So I never really understood the extent of it. “It’s just the place to be.”
Vanderberg described Meijer Gardens as an “important reason” to visit Kent County.
“It’s a destiny,” he said. “They are a community draw that brings significant economic impact to Kent County, and they also provide a cultural and educational resource that our school children can access through their classes, (and) they partner with many different organizations throughout the community. . “Meijer Gardens is a great asset to Kent County.”
Burke said Meijer Gardens plans to spend about $10 million over the next three years on capital improvements, which will primarily include maintenance of the grounds, artwork and buildings.
Additional highlights from the report:
- Although Meijer Gardens is a nonprofit organization and is exempt from federal income tax, direct visitor spending, operating spending, and capital investment spending generate $353,115 in annual tax revenue for Kent County.
- Half of non-local visitors were visiting Meijer Gardens for the first time and 48% of local visitors visit six or more times a year.
- 40% of all visitors have household incomes greater than $125,000.
- 37% of all visitors have a four-year degree and 40% of all visitors have a graduate degree.
- There were 271,541 primary visitors to Meijer Gardens, meaning visitors who stated their primary reason for being in Kent County was to visit the facility.
- All local and non-local top visitors generated $20.9 million in direct spending.
- Direct spending by top visitors generates $30.6 million in economic activity, supporting 268 jobs.
- Non-local primary direct spending generates $106,969 for Kent County.
- Meijer Gardens organizational spending generates $35.7 million in additional economic activity and supports 301 jobs.
- Over the past three years, Meijer Gardens’ capital investment spending generated an average of $12.1 million in annual economic activity and supported 80 jobs.
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