GR Lands AHL All Stars

    GRAND RAPIDS — American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews announced this morning that the 2004 All-Star Classic would be played at Van Andel Arena in either late January or early February next year.

    “It’s the furthest west we’ve ever been,” said Andrews.

    At the same time, arena general manager Rich MacKeigan revealed that Van Andel had by named by Billboard magazine as the top-grossing venue in its class for the past year.

    “We worked diligently to bring in some of the top acts touring in 2002. West Michigan has come to rely on us to bring in quality entertainment,” said MacKeigan.

    Andrews told a press-conference crowd that choosing Grand Rapids to host the two-day annual event was easy. He said the quality of the Griffins franchise and its solid fan base, along with the arena, were the main reasons why the league is coming here next year.

    “Grand Rapids is one of the foremost franchises in the league, and we are proud to reward the Griffins and their fans with the 2004 All-Star Classic,” he said.

    Griffins majority owner Dan DeVos said they were honored with the selection and he credited Senior Vice President Bob Sack and the DP Fox Sports staff with capturing the event.

    “We’re looking forward to it and we’re excited about it,” said DeVos.

    Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson said they hope to hold an all-star event in the new DeVos Place convention center, most likely the annual luncheon.

    “Our bureau is happy to work with the Griffins and the league,” he said.

    The dates for the Classic haven’t been set yet, and won’t be for a few weeks until the league works out a possible national broadcast date with ESPN2. The cable channel has televised recent All-Star games, although it won’t be covering this year’s event on Feb. 3 in Portland, Maine.

    But Andrews said the dates for the 2004 game have been narrowed to either Jan. 25-26 or Feb. 8-9. In March of next year, the arena will also host an NCAA hockey quarterfinal.

    As for the arena, Van Andel had a big year in 2002 with 77 shows that grossed more than $14.8 million from Nov. 2001 to Nov. 2002. That figure put the arena at the top of venues nationwide that have a seating capacity from 10,001 to 15,000 nationwide, easily beating the San Diego Sport Arena for the No. 1 spot.

    The Billboard honor marks the fourth time the arena has been named the top venue in its class. The building opened in October 1996.           

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