AHL To Drop Bucks Here

    GRAND RAPIDS — Because the American Hockey League has decided to bring its 2004 All-Star Classic to Grand Rapids, the local economy will get an unforeseen $350,000 infusion from the two-day event.

    AHL President and CEO David Andrews said last week that the dates for the Classic haven’t been cemented and wouldn’t be until the league finds out whether ESPN2 can televise the game. But Andrews, who has led the league for eight years, said the dates have been narrowed to two: Jan. 25-26 and Feb. 8-9.

    Whichever dates are selected, the economic boost will come at a time when outside money is at a premium.

    “Here we are looking at an event that will bring 10,000 people here in January or early February, typically a down time for downtown,” said Steve Wilson, Convention and Visitors Bureau president.

    The CVB will get involved in the event by finding hotel rooms for the players and league officials, and also try to have the traditional luncheon in the new DeVos Place convention center. The exhibit space will be finished by then, so Wilson hopes that the 700 expected to attend the luncheon will be seated in the new $220 million building.

    The bureau will also highlight the event when it markets the region for trade show and tourism dollars. In turn, the Classic should reward the city with some priceless promotion of its own.

    “Special events, such as this, add to the national exposure of our community. It will get very good press coverage, opportunities to showcase Grand Rapids and West Michigan throughout the nation,” said Wilson.

    “It will also showcase the quality of this venue,” he added of the arena. “Every time we do that it leads to other events.”

    Wilson pegged the event’s economic impact at $350,000.

    Andrews said the league selected Grand Rapids — which, by the way, will become the western-most city to ever host the event — because of the Griffins franchise and fan base, and the Van Andel Arena. Griffins majority owner Dan DeVos credited Senior Vice President Bob Sack and the DP Fox Sports staff with getting the league to look here. He added that they would play a major role in putting the event together.

    “We’ve worked hard to establish ourselves as a premier AHL franchise in less than two years, but it’s really our fans who have earned this extraordinary event through their tremendous support of the Griffins,” said DeVos.

    The Griffins also hosted the 1997 IHL All-Star Game before the International Hockey League folded two seasons ago. Next year’s AHL Classic will be the league’s 10th.

    SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan, who oversees the daily operations of the arena and Grand Center, said he would use the All-Star Classic to promote the building across the nation. In addition, he remarked that the prestigious event would give him and his staff a chance to work even closer with the Griffins, the building’s major tenant.

    “Anytime that you have an event that has exposure outside of your market, it helps with the overall exposure for the venue and the market. That being said though, our primary role for this is to work with the Griffins and enhance their fan base, enhance the experience that their fans have at the game,” he said.

    “Selfishly, that means good things for the arena, I’m not denying that one bit,” he added. “The long-term success of the Griffins means the long-term success of the arena. So we do everything we can to work with them.”

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