GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Kent County is set to pay $12,000 a day for DeVos Place to operate as a COVID-19 vaccination site.
The owner of the DeltaPlex in Grand Rapids is frustrated with the Kent County Health Department. He says he offered to host the COVID-19 vaccine clinic for free.
“Taking off my building owner hat and putting on my taxpayer hat finding out that they’re paying $12,000 a day or $360,000 for one month to use a portion of the building down there...it’s frustrating to me,” says DeltaPlex Owner Joel Langlois.
The Grand Rapids venue helped distribute PPE in Kent County for several months.
“So when the vaccine happened, they called and said, ‘Hey, we’re getting ready to do a vaccine; would you be willing to help us out?’ And I said, 'Sure, we’d be happy to host you and do it at no cost.'”
They had space in the form of 1,500 parking spots, and Joel says that it would have worked. The only charge would have been roughly a grand per day to cover lighting and heating costs.
“It was gonna cost me to have them in the building; we’d donate the space and I’d have some costs associated, but I’m ok with that," says Langlois. "As being part of the solution, it’s part of what we do in a community we provide for our brothers and sisters.”
The county ended up going in a different direction by partnering with Spectrum and Mercy Health.
Kent County Health Officer Dr. Adam London says DeVos Place works better as a mass vaccination site, telling us it had better ventilation, access to transportation, and could vaccinate thousands more than the Deltaplex per day.
The contract says the space will be in use from Jan. 20 to the end of February.
It normally costs $6,800 to rent out the ballroom and $23,000 to use the exhibit hall. However, the price comes down to $12,000 a day with the Kent County Ownership discount.
The cost is being covered by funds via the federal CARES Act, according to Kent County Communication and Government Relations Director at Kent County Lori Latham.
A board member told me she was not aware that a deal was made, saying this action was taken outside the Board of Commissioners' normal process but they're just finding out about it.
The state's public health code allowed Dr. London to sign the agreement in the event of a public health crisis.
“Under Michigan Statue, Dr. London, as the administrative health officer, has the authority to enter into the agreement for the DeVos Place as part of the health department’s response to the pandemic,” says Latham. “The health department had sufficient funds from prior appropriations concerning the pandemic to pay for the rental fees through the end of February so no new appropriation was necessary.”
“We are fighting everyday to come up with the right moves and right decisions to get things right to deal with the vaccine and then we have these partners they come together and put their heads together, they come together with a plan it may not be the plan that we had in mind early on and you gotta be flexible," said Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt.
He also signed the contract and understands the competitiveness for event space, but says DeVos Place is just a better fit.
“Mercy Health, we had vaccine from Spectrum now on the table," said Britt. "How do we do this in a joint effort? It couldn’t be done to the extent they wanted it done at the DeltaPlex.. that’s why they shifted and partnered with the other agencies.”
“When we pay taxes.. we want our tax dollars to be spent in the most efficient way," said Langlois. “I think there’s something going on with this particular decision that is outside of the norm.”
The contract also says the county is responsible for charges pertaining to labor costs, catering and internet, which are not included in the $12,000-per-day rent costs.
DeVos Place is owned by the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority. I'm told the family donated money so it can be built and has no role in operations or ownership.
The $12k a day payments will be going into the CAA's operating budget. Kent County it self does not own the building but does hold the bonds for it.