Everyone wins—sports complex to transform Rockford

Five-year estimate is $20 million in economic growth 

by BETH ALTENA

A new era for Rockford has arrived as the West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) announced a state-of-the-art youth and amateur sports facility with 12 ball fields, concessions, boulevard landscaping, parking for nearly 1,000 cars, play areas and picnic structures will be built on a 79-acre property off Ten Mile Road in Rockford. On 110 acres adjacent to the baseball and softball fields will be an Olympic-style indoor/outdoor archery complex, mountain bike courses, soccer fields and 25K cross-country course. The economic benefit to Rockford in having such facilities here is profound.

Mike Guswiler, executive director of the West Michigan Sports Commission, said the estimated economic impact to the area in the first five years could be $20 million. Guswiler and other spokespersons for the project announced during a luncheon November 16 that the complex would be built and that $4.3 million of the funding for the first phase was secured. Another $1.7 is being sought.

“We needed to demonstrate strong support for this facility among lead donors, and they stepped up in a big way,” said retired president of Grand Valley State University Arend Lubbers.

The WMSC has announced their funding campaign for the $1.7 “Everyone Wins” is underway.

“This project is first and foremost an economic engine for our community,” said Richard DeVos, one of the project’s major donors. “Youth and amateur sports tourism generates about $6 billion in direct spending each year—youth baseball and softball are among the top five travel sports contributing to that figure. We want to capture a piece of that market. But this is also about the love of sports and enhancing the quality of life here in West Michigan.”

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation are the championship field sponsors with a one million dollar donation. Other major donors of $300,000 or more are Wolverine Worldwide, Meijer, Peter and Joan Secchia and family, Dan and Pamela DeVos Foundation, the Frey Foundation, and John and Nancy Kennedy.

Donors of $30,000 or more are the Steve and Cindy VanAndel Foundation, the Dave and Carol VanAndel Foundation, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, Fifth-Third Bank, Gordon Food, and Steelcase.

Businesses, organizations and individuals are asked to “step up to the plate” and help secure funding for the remainder of Phase One and future development with sponsorship opportunities beginning with purchase of a brick (engraved up to 28 characters on two lines) for $150, a baseball for $250, softball and bat. Bats, softballs and baseballs are all limited in number available.

Groundbreaking is expected in the spring of 2012 with players on the field within a year. Donors are also invited to give a one-time cash gift, set up a multiple-year commitment, or donate a gift of assets. Donations are tax-deductible.

Development of a multi-field baseball/softball complex was identified early in the strategic planning process when the sports commission was founded in 2007. The project was described as “the next logical step” for the WMSC as it continues to attract youth and amateur sporting events to the region.

“We’ve visited communities that have similar complexes and they tell us the same thing—if you build it, they will come,” said Lubers.

Once the 12 fields are complete, projections suggest the complex will generate $7.5 million in lodging revenue and $20 million in overall economic impact over the first five years of operation.

With an estimated 75-plus events annually and 135,000 new visitors in the first five years—just for the baseball/softball portion of the sports complex, Rockford truly has the home field advantage for economic growth—and the bases are loaded.

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