Deficiency of fun

How Big Rapids lacks entertainment for college students

As one of the highest valued schools in the state, Ferris brings a lot of benefits for the college scene. When it comes to things like athletics and campus foods, there aren’t many schools trumping our beloved university. However, there are two major elements that Ferris struggles with: location and entertainment.

Almost 9,000 people called Big Rapids home in 2021, according to Census Bureau data. While this is a 15.8 percent increase from the year prior, this number is a 16.3 percent decrease compared to the previous decade. How does this relate to entertainment? Simple, less people means less need for entertainment.

When it comes to campus activities, Ferris does a solid job of providing things to do for students. Activities like concerts, intramural sports and various workshops can give students opportunities to experience the fun of being on campus. On the other hand, there are very minimal opportunities for entertainment outside of Ferris besides some bars and establishments for people to enjoy. The problem is that those who don’t drink or enjoy the party scene may feel left out or pressured due to the lack of options. At the end of the day, Big Rapids is missing a lot of common entertainment options that many other college towns have.

During a profit shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Rapids AMC has been closed for over two years now. Franchise fans, Friday night film aficionados and other community members now must travel almost an hour to the nearest theater to see a new movie. Aggressive gas prices and the convenience of streaming services has made going to the movies with friends and family an almost obsolete idea in this area.

Another exotic entertainment activity that was once in Big Rapids was a paintball facility. The Precision Combat Arena provided a building that housed simulated battles for a multitude of years in the downtown area. The company did well enough to stay afloat for over seven years, but its departure definitely took away an option for the community to try something new.

Many other college campuses in Michigan have multiple options off campus for entertainment like laser tag, mini golf courses, trampoline parks, waterparks and arcades. Whether it’s a common chain or an independent business, the options are a relatively close distance to campus, unlike Big Rapids.

So what does the town have for entertainment? A subsidized bowling alley, an ancient roller rink, an overpriced axe-throwing facility, a few often-crowded bars, a difficult golf course, a pair of longer disc golf courses, small stretches of river for tubing and pickleball courts that have yet to be constructed.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have it better than some other locations, but we as a town should have higher expectations than being better than average. Big Rapids has been a successful home for countless people and families, and we don’t want that to change. It’s about time we see some growth towards the college population. Here’s what I believe the city can do to make that happen.

1. Install an entertainment center

Obviously, this would be the number one solution everyone could agree with. What should we do if we don’t have it already? Build something.

One ideal location for an arcade, laser tag or mini golf center is the old JCPenney store. Being in the downtown area, as well as having plenty of space inside, would give the location huge potential. Not only that, but the estimated rent of about $200,000 per year, according to, gives an adequate business plenty of room to draw in a profit after the building purchase.

2. Shift marketing focus towards younger audiences

Growing up in a retirement town really gave me perspective on this element. During my early school years, there was really nothing to do in our town besides old-timer’s bingo and the weekly fish fry. These are great and all, but not many kids want to join their parents in these activities. 

Luckily, the town has now turned focus this past year to family and more kid-oriented fun, such as adding an ice rink, mountain bike trails and a disc golf course. 

Big Rapids reminds me a lot of this situation, where they have a variety of activities but a lack of advancement towards the younger population. Organizing things like Gus Macker basketball tournaments downtown as well as discounted student swim nights at the community pool are better options than a local parade.

3. Use Ferris’s power of

Partnering with Ferris allows a direct connection for students to help organize events they are likely to participate in. Working directly with Big Rapids businesses and establishments also allows students to learn the process of partnership and management. After all, it is one of the school’s core values and arguably one of the most emphasized values since President Bill Pink took office just over a year ago. Getting perspective from students gives the community organizations an idea of what kind of fun can draw in this demographic of customers, especially with the number one considered element: money.

All in all, Big Rapids has a lot of potential, but not a lot to offer when it comes to entertainment. As one who has lived in the area for all 22 years of my life, I would love to see advancements made within the industry. People like me are willing to try new things, but it’s hard to commit to recreational activities that require equipment purchasing and time to become good-enough to reap benefits. 

Economically, Americans increased impromptu spending habits over last year by over 14%, per PR Newswire. Our post-Covid world has created the urgency within people to get out and do something rather than just stay inside. The equation of logic is there, now it’s time for the town to get to work on finding the solution to make Big Rapids live up to its name’s expectations in the world of entertainment.