Fielding economic hopes

August 22, 2010
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Two key studies concerning the future of the baseball and softball complex that the West Michigan Sports Commission hopes to build will be examined soon by a task force.

The results of both studies will help the commission decide if and when the development, which proposes a dozen playing fields for youth and amateur tournaments, will be built.

The first study aims to measure the project’s economic potential, while the second outlines a site plan for the 80 acres on Ten Mile Road in northern Kent County that WMSC has optioned to buy from the county.

Grand Valley State University economic students, led by professors Jim Padilla and Paul Sicilian, have looked at the complex’s possible payout for the hospitality market. This study, which examined similar developments across the country, marks the second time WMSC has delved into that facet of the development.

A little more than a year ago, Ernst & Young Managing Partner David Hoogendorn, who has ties to the commission, projected the complex would produce $49 million in lodging revenue and $2.4 million in lodging excise taxes over its first 10 years. In addition, he estimated the development’s indirect spending to golf courses, restaurants and other attractions would reach $138 million over a decade.

“What we really want to accomplish is to get an independent party out there to identify if they’re seeing the same thing that we’re seeing. A lot of times when you’re right in the thick of it and you’re the organization that is really promoting the fact that this will bring good things to our community, it only comes with so much power to people who are on the receiving end,” said WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler.

“So if an independent party really looked at it, we felt that would be beneficial,” he said of getting a second fiscal opinion.

Guswiler said a draft report of the students’ work has been completed, and he has shared the results with the commission’s task force.

Progressive AE, an engineering, planning and design firm, is expected to complete the site plan work by the end of this month. Guswiler also will share the outcome of that study with the task force. Part of the study estimates what it would cost WMSC to build the 12-diamond complex, and the study’s price tag is closer to $7 million than the initial estimate of $5.6 million.

“Land cost was figured in, but the manipulation of the land to get it to be where we were able to build wasn’t,” he said of the first cost estimate. “That’s an expense kind of coming into play that was not necessarily calculated early on. But that’s a rough estimate.”

Even if the cost to build the complex turns out to be around $7 million, it isn’t likely to deter the commission from moving forward because of the complex’s potential economic benefit for the hospitality industry — especially hotels and restaurants north of Grand Rapids.

“That’s my feeling, and it’s the feeling of many of my board members, including (Kent County Commissioner) Dick Vander Molen, our board chair. … I think the potential impact far outweighs what the costs look like,” said Guswiler.

County commissioners agreed last December to sell the property to WMSC for $400,000 — the land has been appraised at $2 million — and gave the commission an exclusive two-year option on the site, which is adjacent to the county’s North Kent Transfer Station and just east of U.S. 131. The land is surrounded by property owned by Plainfield Township, and Guswiler said township officials have indicated they may be interested in turning that property into an outdoor recreation complex containing areas for soccer and other sports.

“We really want to look at what the potential is to work together, based on what (Plainfield Township’s) desire is to create on their property, which is open recreation. What does that mean? How can we share infrastructure and work together to really create a wonderful shared vision in terms of how they work off each other?” he said.

The commission’s signature event, the Meijer State Games of Michigan, was held in June, and it turned out to be a bigger success than anticipated. The three-day event drew 3,500 athletes from 62 of the state’s 83 counties; 75 percent were age 19 and under. Direct spending reached $750,000 and topped the original estimate of $600,000. Next year’s games are set for June 24-26 and may feature up to 25 sports — 10 more than the first one. “We’ve gotten very positive feedback from Meijer,” said Tim Selgo, GVSU athletic director, who chaired the games committee.

WMSC will be in its last year of receiving funds from the county when 2011 rolls around. Commissioners awarded $200,000 a year to the organization from the county’s lodging-excise tax receipts for three years. Vander Molen said he has put together a group that is looking to find the sports commission more sustainable funding.

“Sometime this fall you’ll hear more about that. We’re trying to prepare for that eventuality,” he said.

Guswiler said about 90 percent of sports commissions are funded through public-private partnerships, with the rest are supported by corporate dollars. “We’re looking at all models out there,” he said. “To date, we’ve had a $40 million impact.” 

“This is a great example of not spending money, but investing money because of the return,” added County Commissioner Tom Antor.

The sports commission will hold its annual luncheon Sept. 20 in the downtown JW Marriott. Former college football coaches Lloyd Carr of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University’s George Perles are the featured speakers.

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