State Games of America offers big economic impact


The State Games of America are expected to bring 12,000 athletes and 25,000 spectators to Grand Rapids during the first weekend of August. Courtesy West Michigan Sports Commission

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A little flexibility earned Grand Rapids the opportunity to bring about $10 million in economic impact this weekend.

When representatives from the State Games of America came to the city for a site visit in 2014, they were blown away by the DeVos Place Convention Center. The only problem is that the facility was only planned to be used for one event — table tennis.

“They came in and asked us, ‘Could you imagine if you walked into this place and there were sports everywhere?’” Meijer State Games of Michigan Executive Director Eric Engelbarts said. “So, we took the feedback from that committee and went back and revised our bid, and when we did our final presentation, we had the layout all done. We turned it around within a week doing all this stuff and really took their feedback to heart, put in our bid and just went for it.”

That willingness to change things on the fly and work with the organizers of the national Olympics-style event gave Grand Rapids and the West Michigan Sports Commission an edge over competing cities like San Diego; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Hampton Roads, Virginia. On Aug. 4, the 2017 State Games of America will kick off its opening ceremony at Van Andel Arena, the first time they’ve been held in Michigan, and the WMSC estimates the weekend games will net $10 million in economic impact to the region.

“It is a pretty decent feat in that we were able to knock off some of the bigger boys and bring the event here,” Engelbarts said.

The Meijer State Games of Michigan have been held in the Grand Rapids area since 2010, adding a winter event in 2014. The State Games of America will replace the summer games for most sports, but the magnitude of the event is almost four-fold.

The State Games of Michigan games bring in about $2.5 to $3 million in visitor spending and about 8,000 athletes and their families to town, compared to the 12,000 athletes and more than 25,000 spectators expected for the biennial national event. The WMSC estimates 5,500 hotel rooms booked at their 30 partner hotels from Kalamazoo to Big Rapids.

The games themselves are held all over the area, spread across 35 venues including Van Andel and DeVos Place, but also East Kentwood High School, the Art Van Sports Complex and others from Muskegon and Holland to Caledonia, Cedar Springs and Sparta. They comprise 48 sports with 60 events, bringing competitors from 47 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

Engelbarts said the WMSC is fortunate to have forged strong partnerships with the host venues and already more than 1,000 volunteers have signed up to help put on the events.

“Take East Kentwood for example — if you were to roll onto the campus, we’ll have track and field, rugby, swimming, synchronized swimming and basketball going on there,” he said. “Each (venue) has its own sports committee, and we’ve been meeting for a year and a half now specifically on this to determine rules, registration fees, everything that goes into planning the event. But the people running our track event, (EKHS track and field coach) Dave Emeott, has won multiple state championships, they’ve got a brand new track, it’s his home venue, so when he’s hosting a track and field event that’s two days long and has over 600 athletes, it’s almost like a no-brainer for him. He could probably do it in his sleep.”

Athlete sign-in opens on Friday at DeVos Place, which will be filled with vendor and sponsor booths, and Engelbarts said Rosa Parks Circle will be a hub of activity with food trucks, live entertainment and other community vendors to fill the time until the Opening Ceremonies.

“Expect people everywhere, lots and lots of people,” Engelbarts said. “You’ll see athletes ranging from 4 years old all the way to 84 if not older — we’ve had people 100 years old compete in our track event — but yeah, downtown on Friday will be buzzing.”

After Grand Rapids in 2017, the State Games will move on to Lynchburg, Virginia, in 2019 and Ames, Iowa in 2021. The soonest Grand Rapids could host again is 2023, and Engelbarts cautioned that you never know what could happen when the bidding process gets underway in Fall of 2020 — for instance, if a city on the West Coast, where the games haven’t been since 2011, submits a bid, officials could opt to go that route. But if things go well this weekend, it seems likely that Grand Rapids will look to permanently join the rotation of cities that host the games every few years.

“I think it’ll be good to get on the rotation, on a schedule and do it again,” Engelbarts said. “I’ve had a blast doing it, and if things go smoothly, if that weather turns out to be beautiful, I think it’ll be a great event.”

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