The Art Van Sports Complex in Plainfield Township features a number of baseball and softball fields and is designed to attract tournaments. Courtesy West Michigan Sports Commission
Six years of work is done, and now it’s time to play ball.
The West Michigan Sports Commission held its opening for the Art Van Sports Complex — a 60-acre, $7.8 million facility with eight baseball and softball diamonds in Plainfield Township — over the weekend. Eventually, a Phase II could open up four more fields, including a championship softball diamond.
“A lot of the work from those six years will be off my shoulders now,” said Mike Gusweiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission. “It’s exciting because now we get to watch all the operations.”
Limited in scope with the sports it can bring in, Gusweiler said travel baseball and softball holds a huge potential in boosting the local economy. He said studies by various baseball and sports groups have shown that travel for the players and their families can equate to $571 per trip.
With that figure, Gusweiler said the West Michigan Sports Commission’s goal of “heads in beds” is being met. He projects the complex could help inject $20 million into the region.
Even though it’s opening late in the baseball season, the complex still is scheduled to host four tournaments in 2014, which will help the operations team work out any kinks in the facilities.
Initially, Gusweiler said the sports commission had hoped to start with the entire 12-field complex ready to go, but budget restraints led the team to the current eight-field setup, which ends up with an approximately $7.8 million price tag.
“When we started the whole process, it was identifying the right amount of fields, land and budget,” he said. “With the timing of when we were asking (beginning in 2010) and other projects in the area, it was best to focus on Phase I.”
The Everyone Wins Campaign started out with a solid foundation of area philanthropic pillars such as Rich DeVos and Peter Secchia. Gusweiler said the committee did an excellent job of “going door to door” and telling the story of both the complex and the West Michigan Sports Commission and its goal to be an economic engine for the area.
By 2012, the commission had raised more than $5 million for the facility through private, corporate and nonprofit donations. At that point, the commission reached out to Michigan furniture retailer Art Van, which had expressed interest. Art Van wanted to support the project enough to put its name on the complex. With Art Van’s donation, it brought the total to nearly $7 million — enough to begin construction in October 2012.
The project is still shy of its ultimate Phase I goal, however.
“We truly feel showing the community the complex we’ve built and the impact it’s already having will help get us there,” Gusweiler said.
Next season, the complex already is booked for 23 of 27 possible weekends, said Bryan Baar, manager of the complex. The weekends are booked with travel tournaments, with teams coming from all over the Midwest. The rest of the week will be filled with adult slow-pitch softball, high school and adult baseball leagues, and youth softball and baseball leagues.
Baar told a story of a man wanting to have a party on one of the fields. Baar replied, “That’d be fine, but if I’m doing my job, there won’t be any room (on the calendar).”
The travel teams will be made up of all ages, from 8-under to 18-under, and will benefit the Grand Rapids programs, as well.
Both Gusweiler and Baar stressed the quality of the playing fields. Gusweiler said budget and pro formas have the complex running at about a $500,000 budget with $600,000 in revenue. The facility has three full-time employees: Baar, a concessions manager and a marketing coordinator.
“We have put a lot of effort into the operations to keep it at a level to be a premier travel tournament type of complex,” Gusweiler said. “It’s the level of quality of the fields grouped together — that’s where we were deficient in our community.”
WMSC officials are pleased with the initial response.
“We’re looking at a very successful 2015 calendar,” he said. “And forecasting it out five years, there’s great potential for that space.”
Baar said one of the goals for the complex is to bring the MHSAA baseball championships to Grand Rapids. For nearly a quarter century, the high school championships were held in Battle Creek before moving to Michigan State University this year.
He said the complex’s centerpiece, a championship diamond, should help bring a lot of special tournaments to town. The field has covered seating for 1,000, a press box, concession stand and a “beautiful” scoreboard. Phase II will include a championship softball field, he said.
“You will not find another Midwest complex with a centerpiece like this one,” Baar said. “When the whole thing is finished, it’s going to be an incredibly special place.”