County admin: $12K/day for DeVos Place clinic a small price to pay

COVID-19 Vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County is paying $12,000 each day to rent DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids to serve as a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt said the price, which was first reported by the Detroit Free Press, is a small one to pay to help get the virus under control.

“For me, $12,000 a day, when you think about the lives that are being lost to COVID-19, is a very minimal expense,” he told News 8 Friday.

The county is using federal CARES Act dollars to cover the fee paid to SMG, the private company that manages DeVos Place. The contract grants the county and its hospital partners use of the entire DeVos Place complex except for the performance hall. That includes utilities, free parking for the public, tables, chairs and everything else a large-scale clinic needs. Perhaps the most important feature the center offers is square footage, which is critical for social distancing as the vaccination rate ramps up.

Officials with SMG say a weeklong event would normally cost anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 in rent. The county is paying $84,000 per week.

“Sixty-five percent off the normal rate for a facility like that is good for me,” Britt said.

The Detroit Free Press reports that $12,000 is more than what southeastern Michigan venues are charging for large-scale clinics, saying the TCF Center in Detroit is charging $45,000 per month — but that’s for a drive-thru clinic in the center’s parking garage, whereas people go inside DeVos Place to get their shot.

A man gets his COVID-19 vaccine at the clinic at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids on Jan. 25, 2021. (Courtesy Spectrum Health Beat/Chris Clark)

Britt added there is flexibility in the county’s day-by-day deal with DeVos Place, saying there is “latitude” to revise the agreement after considering needs over the course of weeks.

Completed in 2005, DeVos Place, which stands along Monroe Avenue at Michigan Street, was the result of a public-private collaborative that included upwards of $150 million in public dollars.  That was for building the place, not operations, but many will still question the high rent rate on the taxpayer-funded building, which is owned by the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention and Arena Authority.

Britt sees it from a different perspective. As the pandemic continues, he said, it’s not only lives that are being lost but also livelihoods. Restaurant dining rooms have been closed and businesses crippled. DeVos Place itself has been mostly empty since March 2020.

“If you come downtown today, you see it. It’s like crickets,” Britt said. “We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to get ahead of this.”

SUPPLY QUESTIONS KEEP APPOINTMENT SCHEDULING WEEK-BY-WEEK

Meanwhile, the people in charge of running the clinic say its first week was a success. The collaborative surpassed its goal of 7,200 shots by about 800 doses.

“We were able to allocate some additional doses to make those available,” Spectrum Health CEO Brian Brasser said. “We were able to add to the schedule both Wednesday and Thursday and then bring in the staff to support that.”

The site was closed Friday, waiting for next week’s supply.

The Kent County Health Department, Spectrum, Mercy Health and Vaccinate West Michigan are pooling resources, including vaccine supply, into a vaccination supercenter. Those eligible are still limited to certain essential workers, teachers and some vulnerable older adults.

“There is still quite a demand in this phase. We’re in close contact with state of Michigan officials as they contemplate when it’s appropriate to move into the next phase,” Brasser said.

When that will be remains the big question, its answer based on the moving target of supply being facilitated by the federal government.

“It’s too early to tell yet for next week. At this time, we’re only able to take it a week at a time,” Brasser said. “I think as the supply chain nationally and globally continues to strengthen, we expect these number of the vaccine will go up.”

Once the clinic is running at full capacity, it should be able to administer 20,000 doses in a single day.

Appointments at DeVos Place and elsewhere are available, though still limited. The registration process starts at VaccinateWestMI.com.

A sign directs people into DeVos Place for COVID-19 vaccinations. The mass vaccination clinic at the downtown Grand Rapids venue is appointment-only. (Jan. 25, 2021)

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