Newsmaker: West Michigan Sports Commission scores $26M for region


The Art Van Sports Complex is expected to have a $10 million economic impact on West Michigan in its first five years of operation. Courtesy West Michigan Sports Commission

Editor’s note: The Business Journal is recognizing 10 nominees for its 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award, based on their long-term economic impact on the region. One nominee will be featured each day on — leading up to the Jan. 21 announcement of the 2012 Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year.

With about 60 events bringing in thousands of people and millions of dollars in 2012, the West Michigan Sports Commission is doing its job.

On top of that, it secured a major sponsor in its fundraising efforts for a 12 field baseball and softball complex in northern Kent County when Art Van Furniture donated $1.8 million.

The Art Van donation brought the commission’s two-year fundraising campaign, Everyone Wins, closer to its goal of $7.8 million and landed Art Van the title sponsor spot for the complex.

“As a Michigan-based company, we are dedicated to strengthening Michigan communities. This baseball/softball complex will not only bring sports-tourism dollars to West Michigan, it will enrich the quality of life in this community,” said Art Van Elslander, founder and chairman of Art Van Furniture.

WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler said in the fall the complex is expected to have an economic impact of more than $10 million in its first five years of operation. The first phase of the project will include eight fields, including a championship diamond with a 1,000 seat covered grandstand and a Miracle Field for players with disabilities.

They hope to have the complex operational in time for the 2014 season. Progressive AE designed the field, and Owen-Ames-Kimball will oversee the construction.

Since the commission’s start in 2006, with a $1-million investment from Kent County, it has brought more than 250 events, 80,000 athletes and $80 million to the area. 2012 saw more than 60 events and $26 million.

The agency’s signature event, the Meijer State Games of Michigan, features 31 sports and helps children get the feeling of the Olympics. This year’s games had 5,780 athletes from 72 counties and generated $2 million from the families coming to the area.

The commission also helps organize and run the Transplant Games of America, which is about growing its donor organization. The event, taking place mostly at Grand Valley State University, drew 1,600 visitors from 40 states and $1.7 million to the area.

In 2012, the agency hosted the USA Table Table Tennis U.S. Open at DeVos Place, the Mid-American Collegiate Rowing Championship and was lauded by SportsEvents Media Group.

In the next few months, West Michigan will host a variety of events the commission helped draw to the area, including NCAA Division III diving regionals at Calvin College, the MHSAA Division I swimming and diving championships in Holland, NCAA Division III women’s basketball championships at Hope College and NCAA Division I hockey regionals at Van Andel Arena.

Grand Rapids was also in the running to be a site for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

Although the commission brings plenty of events and money to West Michigan, it struggles to bring in money itself.

“The dollars don’t come to the sports commission. They go to the hotels and restaurants,” Guswiler said in the summer. “To put it very simply, we produce sporting events that bring people here who spend money. We want to become a premier sports destination and a go-to organization for youth and amateur sports.”

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