GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A decision to spend $12,000 a day to rent a downtown Grand Rapids venue for COVID-19 vaccinations is coming under scrutiny by a Kent County commissioner and the owner of DeltaPlex Arena & Convention Center, who offered his building for a fraction of what the county is paying.
“As a taxpayer, it makes me mad,’’ DeltaPlex owner Joel Langlois said. "What I’m arguing is that as a taxpayer, this money is being spent in the wrong way.’’
DeVos Place Convention Center is charging $12,000 a day to house a COVID-19 vaccination center. Langlois said he offered his facility for as little as $500 a day.
“We are paying for the Titanic, even though we currently only need a rowboat,’’ Kent County Commissioner Tom Antor said.
About 8,000 people were vaccinated at DeVos Place last week by appointment only. A similar number are expected to be vaccinated this week.
Langlois said Kent County officials visited his 100,000 square foot facility in Walker last month after expressing interest in having it serve as a place people could go to receive COVID-19 shots.
The price, Langlois said, was certainly reasonable. Anywhere between $500 and $1,000 a day, depending on the availability of federal dollars.
Antor said he did not know about the $12,000 a day tab the county is paying until he read about it in a Detroit newspaper.
“I’m embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t know about this as a county commissioner,’’ he said. “I didn’t hear about it until I read about it.’’
Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt said the $12,000 a day tab is being paid using federal CARES Act dollars. The money goes to SMG, a private company that operates DeVos Place.
Located on Monroe Avenue at Michigan Street NW, DeVos Place is owned by the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention and Arena Authority.
Antor said he does not believe the county should be paying rent.
“This is a publicly-owned building, they should be doing it for nothing,’’ he said. “Taxpayers are thinking, ‘why are we paying twice for this?’ We’re already paying down the bonds and now we’re paying rent. It doesn’t look good.’’
The DeltaPlex offer, he said, makes the best fiscal sense.
“And to get building for basically nothing, that could do exactly the same thing as DeVos, it just doesn’t look right,’’ Antor said.
Britt said there was concern the DeltaPlex would not be able to accommodate up to 20,000 vaccines a day. That is what the county hopes to administer once supplies ramp up.
“It’s a much better setup for the large scale 20,000 people,’’ he said. “It’s a different footprint.’’
The $12,000 a day fee, Britt said, includes a 65% discount. "I think we did the right thing by getting it set up.’’
Langlois said he believes the DeltaPlex would be able to accommodate the larger numbers. Aside from that, spending $12,000 a day in tax dollars for a facility that already benefits from public money isn’t sound fiscal policy, he said.
“As taxpayers, we need to be asking questions - why is that money going to DeVos Place when it can be spent somewhere else to help people that are really hurting right now,’’ Langlois said.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.