Sports commission expects to bring 80 events in 2017


The West Michigan Sports Commission estimates the State Games of America, coming to West Michigan for the first time, will generate $5.6 million in the region. Photo by Paul Brower

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) With 2017 rapidly approaching, West Michigan Sports Commission president Mike Guswiler made a confident claim: “It’s going to be a good year.”

The WMSC celebrates its 10th year of operations in the coming year, and in that time, the commission estimates a cumulative economic impact of about $240 million in direct visitor spending. But this coming year, in which the WMSC has secured several national and world events coming to the region for the first time, might be the biggest yet for sports in the region.

“Starting out, we had 20 events on our calendar, and now, we’re averaging between 70 and 80 each year,” Guswiler said. “And that’s what we expect to see next year, about 80 different events from January to December.”

Among some of the new events coming to Grand Rapids are the USA Cycling Fat Bike Nationals on Jan. 27, the International Softball Congress Men’s World Tournament and Professional Disc Golf Association Masters World Championships in August and the WMSC’s marquee event, the 2017 State Games of America, held the first weekend in August.

The WMSC’s Meijer State Games of Michigan, which are modeled after the Olympics, have been the organization’s signature event since its inception in 2010. That event’s continued growth led to the WMSC’s successful bid for the State Games of America, marking the first time the biennial event has come to Michigan.

The 2017 games are expected to bring more than 12,000 athletes and their families to Grand Rapids and have an economic impact of about $5.6 million in the area. The three-day event will feature more than 45 sports at various venues across the region, including DeVos Place Convention Center, East Kentwood High School and WMSC’s own Art Van Sports Complex.

Guswiler said the West Michigan Sports Commission has a budget of more than $1 million for the event, twice the budget of what WMSC typically has on hand for its state games. But while the event will be bigger and more expensive, the model largely will reflect the one in place for the Meijer State Games.

“We’re not really changing or recreating the wheel,” Guswiler said. “We’re using the model that’s been very successful in the past and established the growth that we’ve seen. The framework’s already there, the number of volunteer committees and those that are involved are prepared and ready for it, and I think that just puts us on the national stage.”

The Meijer State Games of Michigan will run concurrently with the national games, where the opening ceremony will be held at Van Andel Arena on Aug. 4.

In addition to the approximately 80 events the WMSC expects to host in the region this coming year, Guswiler is excited about the potential for more infrastructure projects in the same vein as the Art Van Sports Complex, which was completed in 2014.

In its second year, the sports complex hosted 17 baseball and softball tournaments, as well as a football and cyclocross event, bringing an estimated $4 million in visitor spending and filling nearly 8,000 hotel room nights.

A recent report spearheaded by Grand Action touched on the prospect of bringing stadiums to Grand Rapids, specifically citing the possibility of a United Soccer League team. According to the report, a professional soccer stadium that would include the necessary infrastructure to house a USL team would cost about $40 million. Grand Action recommended a soccer-specific stadium analysis to be conducted in determining the feasibility of such a project.

Guswiler was excited to see the Grand Action report also touched on several other potential projects, which could expand and strengthen the amateur sports offerings in Grand Rapids.

“What that report did is certainly it identified what will take us to the next level and brought it to the conversation in Grand Rapids,” Guswiler said. “And that continues a conversation that, for us, really began when we built the Art Van Sports Complex.”

Grand Action also recommended “aggressive” support for the GR Forward river restoration plan, which could “open new doors” for the river as a recreational destination, Guswiler said. In fact, the WMSC already has held discussions about the need for an all-paddle sports building which would offer access to the river and help bring rowing events — like the 2014 USRowing Masters National Championships, which were held in Grand Rapids — to the region.

In 10 years of operating, Guswiler already has checked a number of events off his “bucket list” by bringing them to Grand Rapids, and he’ll check off a few more in 2017. But there’s still one dream event he hopes to one day tackle, and although previous bids with the governing body have been unsuccessful, Grand Rapids has received favorable reviews.

“The one I get asked about the most is the NCAA Division 1 March Madness tournaments,” Guswiler said. “We’ve bid on it three times, once or twice with Western Michigan and another with (Michigan State) we got a visit and they commented the same way other tournaments have seen Grand Rapids — they see the strong community support we get and a great downtown, hotels and restaurants.

“We’re a family-friendly, clean destination, and those are the things sports tournament directors want to see when they select a site.”

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