Art Van Sports Complex Hits Homerun with First Season

At the end of September, we hosted the Blue Chip Softball Fall Classic tournament at the Art Van Sports Complex as the final tournament of 2015. But the weekend wasn’t just the end of a season – it was the closing of the first year of the championship-caliber Art Van Sports Complex, a project that the West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) has been planning for since our inception.

To say we are proud of our first full year in operation would be an understatement. Consider the project’s history for a moment.

  • In the mid-2000s, a sports consultant assessed the Grand Rapids area as a youth/amateur sports destination and discovered that ours was the largest community in Michigan without a championship-level baseball and softball complex for travel tournament teams.  
  • Community leaders visited complexes around the country to see what was possible for our area, creating an oversight committee to determine how Grand Rapids could fill this need.
  • The West Michigan Sports Commission was formed in 2007, and our leadership team identified a key objective – to construct a tournament-quality baseball and softball complex to attract travel tournaments and millions of dollars in economic impact from visitor spending.
  • We broke ground on the complex in 2012, and the community raised nearly $7 million through private dollars to fund the first phase of the complex – including $1.8 million committed by Art Van Furniture that entitled it to naming rights.
  • We dedicated the complex in August 2014 and opened our doors to play ball in fall of 2014 for a few exhibition tournaments. Then in 2015, we officially opened our first season.

 Did our vision come true? Has the complex attracted hundreds of families to our area and generated millions in economic impact. Absolutely – and then some.  In our first year of operation, we attracted 18 tournaments that brought 7,614 participants and more than 20,000 spectators who booked 7,658 hotel room nights and spent $3 million in estimated direct spending.  In fact, we saw 50 percent more hotel bookings than originally projected, due in large part to the higher number of out-of-state players. And on four tournament weekends, almost all hotel rooms were booked in the area, and the complex was pushed to capacity. The Game Day USA National Championships July 24-26 brought more than 100 teams, well over the complex’s 60-team capacity – with the rest playing at adjacent fields in the community.  

We also drew a larger percentage of out-of-state players than expected, with teams hailing from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Oklahoma in addition to Michigan. This was an unexpected and exciting outcome of booking tournaments through a couple of national tournament operators, one of which was Illinois-based Game Day USA that attracted many Chicago-area players.

This also was an important learning year to see what works, what needs tweaking and what events we need to attract in future years to fill the AVSC 100 percent of playable weekends. Our busiest months were, as you would expect, May through July – with June the busiest month with 200 teams and July the second with 162 teams. However, we had to drop five tournaments from the schedule due to inclement weather in the spring  and fall months. Other events like local league play, camps, clinics and even a wedding helped fill in the schedule from cancelled tournaments – so booking a diversity of events and selectively picking tournament weekends are all part of our learnings.

All in all, the success of our first season demonstrates the demand for a championship field in our area. If we had more hotel rooms and more fields, we would fill them. This gives us the fuel to keep fundraising as we look to build an additional quad and a championship softball field as part of Phase II.

As we wind down 2015 and look back on this milestone year for the Art Van Sports Complex, we can’t thank the community enough for your support – whether you gave funds, time or resources. Our community has been incredibly generous – this project would not have been successful if we didn’t have such a philanthropic community. Now let’s move onto Phase II!


Mike Guswiler
Mike is President of the West Michigan Sports Commission.

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