Sports Authority Vote Coming

December 1, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The soon-to-be-created West Michigan Sports Commission has been projected to receive $2.6 million in revenue over its first five years, and Kent County commissioners can get that revenue stream flowing by ratifying $1 million of those funds next week.

The sports commission’s annual operating revenue is expected to range from a low of $475,000 next year to a high of $575,000 in 2011. The county will be the largest contributor over that time span, giving the commission $200,000 in each of those years.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau is on the line for $750,000, or $150,000 for each of the five years. The CVB is making an in-kind donation to the organization and heading a fund drive among its lodging members, a group the commission is most likely to benefit.

A private-sector fund drive has been targeted to raise $380,000 from 2007 through 2011, with $300,000 of that total to come in the effort’s first three years. Universal Forest Products Chairman Peter Secchia is directing that drive.

Additional revenue sources include the Convention and Arena Authority, membership fees to the commission, and profits from events sponsored by the commission — sources that should give the fledgling organization $335,000 over its first five years of operations. (See related chart.)

“A sports commission will provide, we believe, tangible benefits to all sectors of our region,” said Assistant County Administrator Wayman Britt.

“It would not only be good for the economy, but it will also enhance our image and give us a better quality of life,” he added.

County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said the county would pick up the commission’s staffing tab until an executive director is hired.

The revenue sources and amounts came from the final report that a county subcommittee filed recently. Kent County Chairman Roger Morgan organized the subcommittee that met for three months. County Vice Chairman Dan Koorndyk chaired it and was joined on it by Britt, local attorney Bill McDonald, and county commissioners David Morren and Richard Vander Molen.

“It’s been pretty intense. We’ve been to a lot of places and talked to a lot of people,” said Vander Molen. “In time, our sector needs to phase out of this.”

The report also outlined the commission’s first-year timeline.

Interviews to fill the 40-member commission, which each have to be confirmed by county commissioners, are set to begin in February and also be appointed that month. The first board meeting is set for March. In April, an 11-member executive committee will design the commission’s three-year strategy. An executive director is expected to be hired in April, with the rest of the staff coming aboard in June.

“Our research indicated that we need to think long term,” said Britt.

The commission is projected to begin implementing its strategy to draw sports teams and fans to area motels, hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues in August. The commission is expected to spend $475,000 in its first year, with $296,000 going to salaries and marketing efforts.

But the first step has the county conducting an assessment of the sporting facilities in the region, an inventory of baseball, softball and soccer fields; golf courses; bowling lanes; ice rinks; basketball, handball and racquet balls courts; and even shooting ranges.

The idea behind the assessment is to bid on sporting events that can be accommodated in the area, some of which are already here but might not get the publicity they deserve.

One such event is the Michigan Juniors Volleyball Association Championships, which has been played here in early June for the past 18 years. CVB Vice President of Sales George Helmstead said the MJVBA announced it was searching for another city to host the annual two-day event that involves girls ages 13-18 and their families because the group is tired of having to drive from school to school for the games.

So Helmstead said the bureau and SMG, the firm that manages DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena, designed a layout of 40 volleyball courts inside DeVos Place that will allow all the games to be played in the convention center. He said that design convinced the MJVBA to stay in Grand Rapids and that the association was likely to sign a contract soon to keep the championship here for the next five years. The event is worth about 3,000 room nights for lodging operators.

The CAA agreed last week to contribute $25,000 to the sports commission for its first year of operation. CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan said funding it at a higher level would go beyond the return the board expects to come from its investment, as most of the benefit coming from the sporting events is projected to go to the schools and universities in the region.

“The funds will be contingent on the commission becoming a reality and that will likely happen this year,” said MacKeigan, who also is SMG general manager.

The money will come from the CAA marketing budget, which has $75,000 in it. The board is likely to award the remaining $50,000 next month to the CVB, which works closely with SMG to bring events to the arena and convention center.

MacKeigan told the CAA that if the $75,000 turns out to be a good investment for the board, the sports commission and the CVB could see more dollars coming from the CAA in the future.

“The hope is they create new business for the CAA that we would share with those groups,” he said.

County commissioners will vote on the $1 million funding on Dec. 14. The money is expected to come from the county’s lodging-excise tax, a 5 percent charge added to a guest’s lodging bill.

“It’s nice to see something come home. I think this is a no-brainer,” said Tom Postmus, an outgoing county commissioner.

Koorndyk, also an outgoing commissioner, served with the Grand Rapids Jaycees for about 20 years to bring the PGA Seniors golf tournament here. He recently said he regretted that a sports commission wasn’t created earlier because if one had been in place a few years ago, the now-defunct tourney still might have a title sponsor.

“I do think this is a long time in coming,” said Koorndyk. “I wish it could have happened a couple of years ago.”    

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