Sports Business and Travel & Tourism

WMSC to add new summer sports and new Winter Games

Work on Art Van baseball and softball complex is underway.

March 4, 2013
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The West Michigan Sports Commission is adding five more sports to its signature event, the Meijer State Games of Michigan, growing to 36 sports this June.

On top of that news, the commission also will debut its Winter Games here next February.

“We have confirmed the Cannonsburg Ski and Ride area as one of our main venues for skiing and snowboarding type of events. Then, just like the summer games, we’ll have other sports available. However, none of those have been fully committed at this point,” said Eric Engelbarts, executive director of the Meijer State Games for the WMSC.

The commission isn’t sure exactly how many sports will be featured at the winter games.

“But I will say we have done our research here, and we’ve reached out to the existing tournament committees within the summer games and there has been a lot of interest. Now it’s going to be trying to figure out what’s the best fit for year one, and how much do we want to bite off right away,” said Engelbarts.

“Typically, when you look across the country at other models of winter games, they are smaller and more compact than the typical summer games. That’s mainly because of the time of year, as people are less likely to take time off work and make a vacation around it, where for the summer games, a lot of people will travel to the west side,” he said.

More details are expected to be released next fall.

Engelbarts has worked quietly for the past several years to make the Winter Games a reality following the success of the June games. Two years ago, he visited the Iowa Sports Foundation’s Winter Games and came back convinced that Grand Rapids could successfully hold its own.

The sports commission, which is in its seventh year of operation, is one of 30 organizations that belong to the National Congress of State Games. Of those, only nine offer winter games. “So we’ll be number 10,” said Engelbarts.

As for the summer games, the new sports are badminton, diving, field hockey, flag football and ultimate Frisbee.

Almost 5,800 athletes came here from 72 of the state’s 83 counties last June for the competition. An independent economic impact survey showed that the Meijer State Games injected more than $2 million into the local economy.

“We have a great partnership with the hotels,” said WMSC President Mike Guswiler.

Last year’s growth was evident. In 2011, the event drew athletes from 68 Michigan counties and was worth $1.12 million to the local economy.

Guswiler said the Meijer State Games has grown by 30 percent each year, and the Walker-based retailer has signed on to be the event’s major sponsor for three more years.

As for the sports commission’s other major undertaking, work has started on the Art Van Sports Complex on Ten Mile Road in Plainfield Township. Guswiler said the organization has raised 90 percent of the funds needed for the first phase, which will build eight of the eventual 12 baseball and softball fields for youth and amateur teams across the state and the Midwest.

Art Van Furniture, the state’s largest furniture retailer, donated $1.8 million to the sports commission’s capital campaign called Everyone Wins last October to secure the field’s naming rights. Progressive AE is designing the complex, and Owens-Ames-Kimball is managing the work.

The WMSC needs about another $750,000 to meet its $7.5 million capital goal. But Guswiler said that figure could be reduced by a third with the way the subcontractor bids having been coming in so far.

“O-A-K said it has been one of the biggest bids it has seen in a while. This is creating jobs in the construction industry this winter,” he said.

The Miracle Field, which will have a rubberized-type playing surface for physically challenged players, should be ready this fall. The rest of the fields, which will be seeded rather than having sod installed, are expected to be done by August 2014.

“We’re literally going to be sitting back and watching grass grow,” said Guswiler.

The sports commission purchased the site from Kent County for $400,000. The land was appraised at $1.65 million. The county also allocated $1 million as seed money to get the commission through its first five years and to complement some private dollars that came from a group headed by Peter Secchia.

County Commissioner Dick Vander Molen chairs the WMSC board, while Assistant County Administrator Wayman Britt serves as vice chairman. Businessman Dan DeVos and past GVSU President Don Lubbers are co-chairing the Everyone Wins campaign.

Tournament play is expected to get underway in 2015.

“Our future is still way ahead of us with what we’re doing,” said Guswiler. “We represent something different, and that’s growing the future.”

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