Sports Complex A Hit For Growth

July 7, 2008
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The impact of hefty gasoline price hikes on summer tourism in West Michigan is yet to be determined, but the long-range planning of the West Michigan Sports Commission seems aptly suited to counteract recent events affecting the economy.

The group has long stated it would focus on family-oriented events, and such plans fit well with Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s focus on small and mid-size convention groups. The WMSC is now seeking to enhance the possibilities with a proposal to build a baseball complex to better compete with locations around the country where such an advantage makes the deal. WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler said a complex of perhaps 16 fields would provide opportunity for tournaments and the ability to host team supporters and family members. The number 16 is not arbitrary; Guswiler notes such a complex could then host up to a 96-team tournament.

The proposal is one of merit, especially if constructed in the suburban area where hotel and motel business would be enhanced. The Kent County Lodging Association last year voted its faith in the countywide benefit of CVB and WMSC work, even while naysayers believed their efforts would benefit only downtown hotel and entertainment businesses. The Lodging Association bumped its room tax by 1 percent (and could bump it as much as 2 percent under legislation sponsored and guided by State Rep. Michael Sak, R-Grand Rapids.

The CVB now benefits from an additional $1 million in revenue as a result, and has used $150,000 to help fund the WMSC. The rest of the capture by CVB is funding a four-part suburban marketing plan directing traffic to outlying county hotels and motels.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners, the major investor in the WMSC, also is likely to look at Millennium Park for possible sites. As a “green” area linking most Kent County communities, it makes sense, and tournament size and family orientation would still provide business to suburban lodging facilities.

The Sports Commission has seen a successful launch, securing 40 events through 2011, bringing more than 60,000 people to the region. Guswiler said studies show that each individual attending baseball tournaments spends an average of $125 per day. The group has landed contracts with the American Collegiate Hockey Association, U.S. Bowling Congress and USA Gymnastics, holding national, state or regional championship events next year. The recent National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions at DeVos Place, underwritten by Grand Rapids native Floyd Mayweather, was declared a success and tourney planners expect to come back.

Plans for a baseball tournament complex are exciting and merit further discussion of how and where.

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