Sports Panel Filling Out The Roster


    GRAND RAPIDS — After huddling with others a few weeks ago, Kent County now needs to decide what position it will take in the proposed sports commission.

    Will it call the shots or just send in some plays? Certainly, the county will be expected to cover some of the payroll.

    So Kent County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan has put together a committee to toss that idea around for the next few weeks, with the goal of filing a report on whether or not the county should get involved and, if so, how it should be involved.

    Morgan told the Business Journal that he drafted county commissioners David Morren, Dan Koorndyk and Dick Vander Molen to serve on the committee with Bill McDonald. McDonald is a partner in the law firm of Worsfold, MacFarlane & McDonald and a former Grand Valley State University quarterback.

    “They will look into the role, if there is any, that the county can play. I told them I wanted a report by September,” said Morgan.

    “We need to start getting a plan together and then put budget numbers to that plan, and we will see if we can fund it,” he added.

    If a sports commission is going to go forward, a good portion of its funding will likely have to come from the county.

    “We’re looking at about $200,000; that’s the number that is being kicked around. I don’t know if that will be the final number or not, but that seems to be the starting point,” said Morgan.

    One revenue source the county will look at for those dollars is the lodging excise tax fund. Receipts from the hotel-motel tax go to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and pay the bonds that built much of DeVos Place. John Ball Zoo also gets an annual contribution from the levy, which is a 5-percent surcharge to a guest’s lodging tab.

    Revenue to the fund was up by 22 percent for the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year. But County Fiscal Services Director Robert White recently told a Convention and Arena Authority committee that income to the fund is expected to reach $4.7 million this year, while expenses are expected to total $6.17 million and leave the fund with a deficit of $1.43 million for the year.

    That shortfall will be covered by the fund balance, which will drop the reserve to $2.91 million or enough money for two more annual deficits.

    “If nothing else occurs, you will be out of fund balance in two years. We need several years of sustained [revenue] growth to build the fund balance back up,” said White.

    So squeezing another $200,000 out of the fund each year could be tricky. But pumping money into the commission isn’t the only issue that needs to be decided, according to Morgan.

    “What will the commission look like? Who makes the appointments? What’s our role? Do we park it at the CVB, or make it an authority? What do we do? There are a lot of things to kick around,” said Morgan.

    “I want this to represent Kent County and you know how we do business. We have a lot of due diligence when we take a project on,” he said.

    The one thing that is certain at this point is the purpose of the commission, which is to draw more people here through athletic events in order to fill the hotels and motels in the county. Growth in that area has happened, as room nights have risen from 28,000 in 2003 to 52,000 last year.

    “That is nearly double in two years. We plan to triple that number over the next four years,” said Steve Wilson, CVB president.

    Wilson reported that the hotel occupancy rate in the county was 55 percent in April and the average room rate was $74. Amway Grand Plaza Hotel President Joseph Tomaselli said most guests who stay here are from Michigan, but some trickle in from Indiana and Illinois.

    “A tourist-based economy is a good place to be in Michigan,” said Tomaselli.

    Wilson is keen on the sports commission, especially since his bureau landed the 2008 National Golden Gloves Tournament.

    “The booking of the Golden Gloves shows there is much more out there, which will help fill our hotels,” he said.

    Filling the hotels, most notably those in the suburbs, is the main reason Morgan has the county looking into getting involved. He can see a sports commission accomplishing that goal. But Morgan can also see the process of putting a commission together becoming too political to do any good.

    “If this thing gets up and running, it’s going to make a big impact — some positive and some negative, depending on your viewpoint,” he said. “Everybody is protecting their turf. It’s a political environment.”    

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