Travel, entertainment wait for normalcy as MI slowly reopens


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite a feeling of urgency to get back to normal, experts involved in entertainment and tourism sectors are realistic about prioritizing safety over profits. 

“We acknowledged that we would be the last back so while it’s disheartening, it’s understandable. And I do not mean to downplay the significance, the seriousness of this pandemic from a health perspective,” Richard MacKeigan of ASM Global told News 8. 

MacKeigan is the regional general manager overseeing Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall.

“Getting together in close proximity and yelling and handshaking and hugging, that’s what our business is. Whether that’s the convention center on the trade show floor or boat show or whether it’s the symphony with a guest performer or whether it’s a Griffins game or a sold-out concert,” MacKeigan added. 

He said the arena and convention center were preparing to close one of the venues’ best fiscal years yet when COVID-19 hit. Instead, they expect to close this fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, breaking about even. 

“The convention arena authority held their monthly meeting last Friday and they approved a budget for this coming fiscal year that proposes a $6.3 million operating loss for the three venues, so that will be effective July 1 of (20)20 through June of (20)21,” MacKeigan explained. “That presumes no activity whatsoever for the first six months of the fiscal year of any significance, as well as only 25% activity for the remaining six months.”

He noted it is a “worst-case scenario” approach to help with decision making that is working off a reopening timeline that doesn’t definitively exist. 

The northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula are in phase 5 (containing) of the state’s six-phase MI Safe Start reopening plan, while the rest of the state remains in phase 4 (improving). Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office told News 8 Monday the hope is to move the lower regions of the state to phase 5 by July 4, but that still won’t address events that welcome thousands. 

As they develop coronavirus safety protocols, tourism experts are factoring in the uncertainty of exactly when large-scale events can get back on the calendar. Travel Michigan Vice President Dave Lorenz was tapped to oversee writing the proposal, which was created with input from 350 experts and is now being reviewed at the state level.

“The reality is the travel industry accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan and the governor’s office wanted to make sure they’re getting back to work as safely as possible,” Lorenz told News 8. “This is not just protocols for workers or residents or businesses or for travelers, it’s all of the above and the main goal is to make sure we don’t go backwards. We can’t afford to be getting people sick needlessly.”

There’s no timeline for when those protocols may be approved, but Lorenz explained they’re going through legal and safety vetting before reaching the governor’s office. 

He also added any protocol for a safe return to normal in a post-COVID-19 world will depend a lot on the public.

“They may not be concerned about themselves, but are they concerned about other people? Because that’s what this is all about, thinking of others,” Lorenz said. “We may live in two peninsulas, but we are one Pure Michigan, so it’s time we think of others here to keep other people safe and that’s what we’re talking about here. And if people follow the protocols, once they’re approved, I’m absolutely confident we’ll be able to get through this and we just need to play our own role.”


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