Up to $10 million in state funding to create a Northern Michigan Sports Commission to utilize existing state dollars for sports and recreational-related facilities across the region is part of a supplemental budget bill approved by state lawmakers this week.
The proposal led by state Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) will establish a Northern Michigan Regional Tourism and Sports Fund and create a Great Lakes Sports Commission focused on improving or developing high-level athletic and recreational facilities and events across Northern Michigan that promote sports, recreation and tourism across the region. The result has been part of a major effort for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and other regional partners for more than a year.
“I am so grateful that through the hard work of many, including the Traverse City Area Chamber and other Northern Michigan chambers, that we were able to secure significant funding for this strategic, transformative opportunity for Northern Michigan’s dynamic and diverse sports, entertainment and recreation events and infrastructure,” Sen. Casperson said. “I’m excited to see what the future brings through this funding and convinced it will leverage even more significant resources that will permit us to showcase Northern Michigan far beyond our region and continue to build our area economy.”
Kent Wood, Director of Government Relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber, credited Casperson’s office for leading the effort and said the initiative will boost the region in several ways.
“Northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula offer numerous facilities and events that support high-level athletic competition, recreation, and tourism. They are major contributors to the region’s economy and provide year-round opportunities for residents to enjoy an exciting, adventurous, and healthy lifestyle,” Wood said. “This will create the institutional infrastructure to significantly enhance those facilities to attract even more high-level activities and events to our communities.
“Northern Michigan companies compete globally for talent, and it can be a challenge to attract and retain people in rural northern Michigan,” Wood continued. “This will help build on one of our key attraction and retention strong points – four-season athletic and outdoor recreation opportunities from kids to adults.”
Funding for the Tourism and Sports Fund was part of a $1.2 billion budget supplemental bill passed by state lawmakers this morning as they wrapped up their year-end session. The bill is headed to Gov. Rick Snyder for his approval.
Among the potential projects for the Fund and the Great Lakes Sports Commission would be to renovate the Copper Peak ski jump in Ironwood to enable it to host an internationally sanctioned ski jump Grand Prix event. Other possibilities could include upgrades to regional recreation trails or other facilities that host large events but also offer exciting opportunities for local residents – like the Detroit Red Wings training camp and NHL Prospect Tournament at Centre ICE Arena, the Iceman bike race, and the North American VASA.
Wood testified in 2017 before the Senate Commerce Committee in support of legislation that was part of this effort. He was joined by five-time U.S. Olympian Billy Demong, a gold medalist in Nordic skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the head of USA Nordic, the governing body for Nordic skiing in the U.S. Demong testified in support of the effort, as did Bob Jacquart, CEO & Owner of the Stormy Kromer brand, and John Heilig, Executive Director of Copper Peak and the Technical Delegate for the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined events at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Japan, and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Other business organizations joining the Traverse City Area Chamber in support of the bill include the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce, the Petoskey Regional Chamber, Gaylord Area Chamber, Cadillac Area Chamber, Manistee Area Chamber and the Lake Superior Community Partnership based in Marquette.