By Isaac Constans
Listen Up, Lansing Staff Reporter
So often at the center of attention is the Lansing Convention Center. The Lansing Convention Center, also known as the Lansing Center, hosts many of the biggest events to come to Lansing and provides a constant source of entertainment to the residents, as well as a large tourism and economy boost.
Opened in 1987, the Lansing Center occupies the final block of Michigan Avenue heading west before the Grand River. It is an ideal location for people to visit.
“When I go to [Lansing Community College], I can just walk from there to here, so yeah it’s a good spot,” Maricella Bonilla, a staff employee of the Lansing Center for approximately 18 months, said about the Lansing Center.
For those who are not already downtown, the area has plentiful parking options and is easily accessible.
“It was a straight shot off the highway,” Kyler Diekevers, who travels to the Lansing Center occasionally for weekend events and shows, said.
But while the Lansing Center brings shows and events to the community when it can, it’s primary focus is not providing cultural impact. Rather, the Lansing Center and its management, the Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority (LEPFA), seek to drive commerce into the community.
“It was built to drive economic impact into the region,” Kent Lenzen, director of sales at the Lansing Center, said. “And they do that through sleeping rooms, hotel rooms, and people come here shopping, parking, and spending money in the city.”
Being in downtown Lansing means that the Lansing Center is a 90-minute drive from 90 percent of Michigan’s population, according to the Lansing Center website. To this point, it has served over 10 million people.
According to Dr. Don Holecek, a tourism economist at Michigan State University who has extensive covered Michigan tourism, Lansing needs to be sure that it has its best showpieces within walking distance.
“And I think that’s probably the goal, what Lansing needs to be working on,” Holecek said, referencing the amount of local options available for Lansing Center attendees. “To have more things available within easy walking distance from the convention center… I think the name of the game in terms of conferences these days is a walkable community.”
The Lansing Center is a constant source of action for the Lansing community, catering events from weddings to national conventions. The exhibit hall can service crowds of up to 5,000 people for events such as Life in Color, a techno concert series with loud music and paint flying through the air.
“I guess the main thing I remember from the venue was how big the room was,” Diekevers, 20, said. “The actual crowd of people and set only took up about a third of the room.
“The atmosphere was electric and there were probably 2,500 people there … it had a great location.”
Events range from concerts to political rallies and from fights to children’s events.
“Yeah, we do a lot of cool things here,” Patrice Howard, an employee of the Lansing Center for five years, said. “My sister had her sweet sixteen right here. And I take my daughter to a lot of the events.”
According to Lenzen, the primary things he tries to book are conventions because they bring swarms of out-of-town people to the city. One day shows and events are nice, he said, but a secondary focus and mainly time-fillers.
That economic impact is no small figure. Last year, the Lansing Center’s estimated 2014 contribution to the Lansing community was $56,871,203, according to the latest financial statement provided by LEPFA.
Since it is owned and operated by the city, the Lansing Center receives public stipends for upkeep and improvement. And because its aim is to direct business to the area, the Lansing Center is under no obligation to make a profit.
“Nobody’s making money off of this building,” Lenzen said. “We don’t have stockholders. The city’s not looking for some sort of percentage that they’ve got to have. So if we operate in the black, that’s great. But if we operate in the red… as long as I can show that we were driving economic impact at a level they want to see, then we’re doing okay.”
Between public investment and the generated revenues, though, the Lansing Center operates in the black. The profits left over go to capital improvements, according to Lenzen.
“We had a couple of structural problems outside our ballroom here, on the landing outside,” Lenzen said, pointing to the ledge overlooking the Grand River, which caused the corrosion. “They had to come in and reinforce, that recement that, redo it. So when we operate in the black, that money goes back into the building.”
This is a positive feedback loop, said Lenzen. Money generated by the Lansing Center goes back into the building to help attract more conventions. This increased occupancy then leads to economic benefit in the area.
Lindsey Sadino, a hostess at the Nuthouse, said that they always know and prepare for whenever conventions come to town.
“It’s noticeable, for sure,” Sadino said. “And they actually tell us when they’re having a convention. We actually schedule according to when there are conventions.”
This impact is “steady” throughout the year, according to Sadino. Winter does not cause a drop off and can even improve the amount of visitations.
Lansing’s economy also receives a boost in the shopping and hotel industries, as well. The Lansing Center has a walk-over covered bridge straight to the Radisson hotel downtown and generated 23,293 hotel room nights throughout the area, according to LEPFA calculations.
“I work with the Radisson and the (Greater Lansing) Convention & Visitors Bureau,” Lenzen said. “Depending on how big the group is and how many sleeping rooms it’s bringing to the city, sometimes the Convention & Visitors Bureau will offer an incentive.”
According to Holecek, the conferences generate the most local economic impact all around. Single-day shows can create direct spending, but the community benefits most from having out-of-city tourists come in and spend money, with more chances to spend money and the booking of hotels.
“The conferences and business meetings generate a lot more economic impact than the garden shows and local attractions,” Holecek said.
Lenzen echoed this, saying that since his job was to drive finance into the city, he tried to book as many multiway events as possible. One-day shows are only fillers.
Bonilla and Howard, too, feel the economic impact directly of the events that the Lansing Center recruits, as they impact when they work. The Lansing Center employs 60 full-time workers in addition to those who work part-time, according to Lenzen. Most are involved in food and beverage.
“We do all of our own food and beverage,” Lenzen said. “We incorporate that labor into their work force, so it makes sense. But we also make our union requirements.”
For Bonilla and Howard, the job is never boring. It has its moments, but they are always witness to something new and something exciting, even when there are just company conventions.
“Oh yeah this is a cakewalk for us, very easy,” Howard said. “If only you could see all of the events that came in and out.”
Responsibilities for employees can range from event preparation to serving as bartender or checking on the dance floor. Additionally, it’s aesthetically a nice place to work, according to Bonilla.
The facilities were updated in 2007 and 2008 to help host such large events. The cosmetic renovations are currently accompanied by a multi-story Christmas tree and holiday wreaths for the holiday season.
“The building itself is in pretty good condition,” Bonilla said. “There are definitely some things that they could do better, just things that are old-fashioned, but overall its in good shape.”
The Lansing Center is always bustling, with five to six large conventions or events occurring every week and an additional two small meetings. Nights are also hot times, with close to five to six events a week, additionally.
For Lenzen, the work is a nice change of pace from a profit-based corporate company. He says that as long as he is making an economic impact and keeping the city lively, his job is complete.
“Here, the stress is filling up buildings, and we do a pretty good job,” Lenzen said.