County to throw out first pitch

June 14, 2009
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Before they can build it and before anyone can come, Kent County has to create a subcommittee that will look into leasing land for a baseball and softball complex on county-owned property in Rockford.

And the county will get that process started this week.

“A softball and baseball complex is a business proposition,” said County Commissioner Dean Agee, who added that the subcommittee’s members would be named on Tuesday morning.

The West Michigan Sports Commission wants to lease 90 acres the county owns on Ten Mile Road, adjacent to the county’s North Kent Transfer Station, and construct a 12-field complex for baseball and softball games and tournaments on the property. One diamond would be designated for championship games. The lease would run for 25 years and the county would charge the sports commission $1 a year for use of the acreage.

“Keeping people here is part of it. Getting people here is the other part of it,” said Peter Secchia, chairman emeritus of Universal Forest Products Inc. and co-founder of the two-year-old sports commission with the county and Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The idea behind the complex is to draw youth and amateur traveling teams and their families to the area for weekend tourneys and create a new revenue stream for outlying hotels and motels. “This is to benefit the small hotels in the county,” said Secchia.

WMSC also said last week the complex, which has an estimated construction cost of $5.6 million, would contribute much-needed revenue to the county’s 5 percent lodging excise tax.

David Hoogendoorn, managing partner for Ernst & Young, gave county commissioners an estimate that the complex could produce $49 million in lodging revenue and $2.4 million in hotel-motel tax income over the first 10 years of its existence. He also said there were only two other similar fields in the state. One is in Canton and the other is Bailey Park in Battle Creek.

“You can’t touch a hotel there without going through a broker,” said Hoogendoorn of booking a weekend room between April and October in Battle Creek.

WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler said restaurants and shops would also get a monetary boost from the complex.

“There certainly is more of a benefit than to hotels. Go into a restaurant and you’ll see all the jerseys,” he said. “Sports tourism is holding its own (despite the economy).”

Secchia said the sports commission wasn’t expecting the county to make a contribution to the construction of the complex now, but possibly later. In the meantime, he said he would approach the private sector to try to raise the construction cost.

Secchia said he had a private donor who was willing to cover half the $5.6 million needed, but that individual had to pull back due to economic circumstances.

“We still have to raise the funds and that won’t be easy to do,” he said.

Secchia also said the National Collegiate Athletic Association acknowledged that it had received the sports commission’s bid to host a Division 1 men’s basketball tournament round, either first or second, in 2011, 2012 or 2013 at Van Andel Arena.

“This will put us on the map,” said Secchia.

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