National governors meeting to showcase Traverse City

TRAVERSE CITY – Cherry pie, fine wine and a view of the bay are all on the menu when the nation's governors meet here later this month.

The July 20-23 National Governors Association (NGA) meeting is the second time in as many decades that state leaders will meet at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. It will mark the sixth time they've convened in Michigan.

Their business agenda will reflect a different economic climate than it did when they met 20 years ago, as well as post-9/11 security concerns. But it remains to be seen how their visit will impact our local economy and how the outcome will compare with the 1987 event.

An estimated 1,200 governors, spouses and staff as well as representatives from state and federal government and businesses are expected to attend this year's meeting, says Jodi Omear, the NGA's press secretary.

Around 300 attendees will be from media outlets, and what they report will create a second wave of impact.

"Any time there's a conference of that size it has huge ramifications in terms of money spent," says Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Executive Director Bryan Crough. "Beyond that, it's national exposure. Having Traverse City mentioned again and again as the location… I think the travel writers meeting here (in 1987) coupled a few weeks later with the national governors' conference really had an impact. It said this is a destination of national interest."

Another reason that this meeting of state heads may look different than the one 20 years ago is that the first one was planned by then Governor Blanchard to coincide with the state's 150th birthday celebration. The parade of tall ships, fireworks and giant cherry pie that marked the occasion were also covered by the national press and lumped together in collective memory.

Crough served as a local organizer for the sesquicentennial and recalls the city's first Friday Night Live was planned as a filler to keep crowds downtown between events.

Even with this year's belt tightening, participants will have the chance to sample local products and visit local attractions.

Cherries will be served both fresh at Friday evening's picnic and in pies at Saturday evening's bay front gathering. Area golf courses will also be showcased officially on Friday evening and unofficially whenever participants can squeeze in a few holes. Classic autos will be on display on Friday, followed by tall ships and a Mackinac Island ferry at Saturday's festivities.

Wine from 14 area vineyards will be available for tasting on Sunday when Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery and Chateau Chantal welcome attendees for tours. Finally, Michigan art will be highlighted at a Saturday evening visit to the Dennos Museum.

"Privately-raised money will pay for social events, transportation and security," says Michelle Begnoche, spokesperson for the host committee.

Last year South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford stepped in to host the annual summer meeting when a hurricane hit Mississippi, the original 2006 destination.

Governors and their entourages filled every empty hotel room, says Marisa Crawford, Sanford's director of communications. "The three-day meeting brought $4.3 million into Charleston," she said.

The majority of expenditures were on housing, Crawford says. Transportation and retail expenditures were also significant. In addition to their own meeting agenda and joining the governors for evening events, spouses helped the local economy by shopping at the city's high-end boutiques.

Lodging for conferences is more difficult to track here, says Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau president Brad Van Dommelen.

Another factor is that midsummer is already the busiest time for tourism in Traverse City, with the governors'meeting flanked by two major festivals-cherry and film.

"We can't put a dollar value on the impact, but the bottom line is it's very positive for our community. The (economic) tentacles spread through our community in many ways."

The last time around, renovations at the Resort in preparation for the governors' arrival included construction of the 20,000 square foot Governors Hall, named in honor of the facility's first gathering of state heads.

The price tag on recent updates is $13.5 million for renovation of all guest rooms, public areas and meeting rooms including Governors Hall, says spokesperson J. Michael DeAgostino. While the upgrades are scheduled to be completed in time for the governors to convene, the plans were made prior to the NGA's decision to hold the meeting here.

One Traverse City business was on hand in South Carolina and also at the governors' winter meeting in Washington, D.C., handing out preview samples of a trademark Traverse City product…cherry pie.

Grand Traverse Pie Company owner Mike Busley made sure that the governors attending last year's meeting in Charleston had a taste of Traverse City in the form of his cherry pie.

This summer he won't have to go as far to deliver his home-baked pies. They're on the menu for Saturday night's Evening on the Bay. And he plans to invite both Governor Granholm and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to visit his shop to chat about growing jobs in their states when new GT Pie Company franchises open.

"I'd like the governors to look at what this company is doing…creating jobs and dollars by buying Michigan products." BN