Townships, City learn financial opportunities of Rockford sports complex
By Matt Marn
The Plainfield Township board welcomed the township boards and planning commissions of Algoma Township and the City of Rockford the evening of Tuesday, May 25, for a special combined meeting.
The informational meeting discussed the project of creating a sports center, complete with a number of baseball diamonds, in an area near the current North Kent Transfer Station off 10 Mile Road, owned by the Kent County Department of Public Works. George Meek, Plainfield Township supervisor, said it was time to share the idea that has been discussed for a number of years.
Meek said for now, it was simply an informational meeting, and that if further steps were taken to make this plan a reality, all three township boards and planning commissions would be involved.
“If this takes place, it will have a very strong impact on the communities around us,” said Meek.
Plainfield Township welcomed its speaker, Mike Guswiler, Executive Director of the West Michigan Sports Commission, the group responsible for bringing this idea to the table.
Guswiler explained the commission was formed in 2007 to promote West Michigan as a premiere venue for youth and amateur sports. He went on to say another goal of the commission is to improve the quality of life for people in the area, including bringing in customers to benefit local businesses such as restaurants, stores and hotels.
Guswiler said so far the commission has planned 136 events, and has already brought in $140 million in revenue for local businesses through youth and amateur sports events.
“In 2007 we conducted a plan… we wanted to become the go-to organization for youth and amateur sports organizations,” he said. “Much of that effort is bringing awareness and volunteers to the sports, as well as sponsorship and venue assistance.”
Guswiler said the West Michigan Sports Commission has another objective – to further develop the infrastructure of facilities in the area, from high schools to universities. He said after forming a research task force, the commission found the sports that would most benefit from such an area was baseball and softball.
“In the seasonal period, you can have a tournament each and every weekend,” Guswiler said. “We wanted to focus on what it would take to build a pre-eminent baseball complex. We began a land search, examining over a dozen areas to try to find one at a low cost. We eventually found we’d have to develop our own.”
Guswiler explained that Plainfield Township had already agreed that once the West Michigan Sports Commission had completed feasibility studies, secured funding, and taken all necessary steps with the township, it would be able to buy the land.
“This is all based around the mission of youth and amateur sports,” Guswiler said. “This will bring visitors here, they will spend money here, and it will impact the quality of life in the area.”
Guswiler also mentioned the idea of a championship field in the complex.
“Our region has baseball complexes, but most of what’s out there has not been maintained,” he said. “One feature to stand out would be a championship field. Think of it as a mini Fifth-Third Ball Park. The teams play there, they feel special. They get to experience the ultimate of baseball.”
When the presentation was opened up to questions from the Plainfield Township board and planning commissions, as well as those of Algoma and Rockford, some concerns were raised, but most in attendance supported Guswiler and the commission.
Jack Hagedorn, Plainfield Township trustee, said his wife is the treasurer of Rockford Little League baseball, and encouraged Guswiler to speak with nearby school systems as well.
“Would use of these fields include local little league teams, or just travel teams?” Hagedorn asked.
Guswiler responded that the commission wanted to keep the usage flexible, but the main intent would be for travel groups, especially on weekends for tournaments, so that the tourism industry would be strengthened.
“During the week, we can partner with other groups,” Guswiler said. “This is a versatile system where how it is created encompasses many groups.”
Steve Jazweik, Mayor Pro-Tem of the Rockford City Council voiced a question about such community use.
“Say Rockford Little League wants to play a tournament. Would there be a cost to play involved?” Jazweik asked, to which Guswiler confirmed there would probably be a cost involved regarding upkeep of the facility, but assured it would be reasonable.
Brien Dews of the Rockford City Council said it looks like a nice addition to the area, which could help economically support the downtown area.
“I only see it as a benefit,” Dews said. “They are taking their time and doing it right, which is what we need.”
Michael Young, Rockford City Manager, said the arrangement between the three communities which agreed to preserve the non-commercial nature of the Ten Mile corridor has held well so far. He said many proposed plans have deviated from that arrangement, and they have all been turned down.
“In the Ten Mile Corridor, there is enough planned commercial nature to spur development, but not inland development,” Young said. “It is very special; it would be a gem for our town. We all fully support it.”