Multiplicity

June 5, 2002
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There is an old Michael Keaton movie titled "Multiplicity" in which the main character is so busy he wishes he could clone himself. He does, and the results are … shall we say, interesting.

Ironically, the technology for actual cloning of living creatures is being worked on day and night now (Vern Ehlers and Dolly have vastly different views on this), and again the results are interesting.

Living creatures aside, it seems that cloning — and multiplicity — are similar themes for today, too.

Look no further than the suburbs where proof is evident and more proof apparently is forthcoming.

When Grand Action's David Frey a few months ago said he wasn't ready to "retire," he mentioned work on a new auditorium as one of his interests. As one of the fathers of Van Andel Arena, Frey has plenty of experience in venue building.

Might this new venue be in the suburbs at, say, Frederik Meijer Gardens?

And if that's the case, what about the new auditoriums that were part of Forest Hills Public Schools' multimillion-dollar bond issue? Forest Hills Northern High School currently has a state-of-the-art auditorium just up the road on Leonard Street NE.

Ahh, but a precedent already has been set in regard to this type of multiplicity.

When MikeWashburn and the Forest Hills brass needed an aquatics center, it seems the only available place to plop a swimming pool was right next door to the Southeast YMCA, which has a pretty nice swimming pool of its own.

If the gardens can just land a miniature version of the Alexander Calder's sculpture, the area can become known as East Downtown. If there's room for an East Grand Rapids, there must be room for an East Downtown.

  • Banking is seedy. It's also ruthless and cutthroat.

And you'd never know. The pinstriped suits, hushed meetings behind closed door and general cloak of secrecy surrounding the industry make it a profession of the highest regard.

So when something a bit different comes to light — like it did last week concerning the news of Old Kent's David Wagner seeking Fifth Third Bank as a partner — the community seems to blush a little.

But what really makes the financial community blush is one of its own telling a few trade secrets.

In a January presentation at Salomon Smith Barney's Fourth Annual Financial Services Conference, Wil Daly, chief marketing officer for Fifth Third, took great pains to explain the campaigns his bank runs (and West Michigan can expect to see) and just why they're so successful.

Previously, the bank used to require a minimum balance in a checking account. If the balance dropped below the required amount, the bank nicked the customer for a $6 fee. That fee was extracted for each day the account was underfed. That process, on average, gained the bank $18 per account, per year.

Now, Fifth Third likes to give things to consumers so they will open new accounts as part of the Totally Free checking campaign. Some of those items include Pyrex, duffel bags and what he refers to as "soccer mom chairs."

And those accounts won't have annual fees or charges for writing a certain number of checks. Instead, those who bounce checks will be charged $27 and then $5 a day for each day they remain overdrawn.

Here's Daly's explanation: "We introduced Totally Free (checking), and all of a sudden there's no monthly service charge. That's the good news. Well, the real good news is that they get comfortable with the account. It's got a matrix for overdrafts underneath. So, day one, all of a sudden, something doesn't hit the same day it's supposed to, and they get ready for a service charge, an overdraft charge, and a bounced check. OK? In our magnanimity, we actually — you know, we pay the check, and they get a charge of $27. And, gee, they bring it back to you, and bring a new check in, in two days, so they get $5 a day (in charges). So we actually made $37 on that transaction."

Daly said the bank's fee income in this area has gone up 46 percent. "So do I like Pyrex? I'm a fan of Pyrex," he said.

  • Grand Rapids Griffins and Kansas City Blades co-owner Dan DeVos was surprised to learn of the money problems facing the Cleveland Lumberjacks, another International Hockey League franchise.

"I thought we had settled into the year and that everything was rolling along pretty well," said DeVos last week. "It was surprising for everybody to hear that (Lumberjacks owner) Hank (Kassigkeit) was looking at it differently than he was not too long ago."

A few days after the IHL governors' meeting in Chicago, Kassigkeit said he was broke and couldn't continue to run the Lumberjacks. The league went to court to stop him from shutting down the franchise. Then IHL Commissioner Doug Moss and a court-appointed mediator began talks with Kassigkeit in an attempt to iron out the problems in Cleveland.

"Cleveland is an important part of our league. It's a very important city, a good city with a great arena," said DeVos. "The support for the team over the years has been good. We need to keep looking at different options to keep it there."

One option has the IHL assuming control of the franchise for the remainder of the season. For that to happen, the league's other owners have to agree to provide the financial means to do so, as the IHL doesn't have a rainy-day fund for such a purpose.

"If the league does operate it, it clearly wouldn't be for the long term," said DeVos

Another possibility has the Minnesota Wild, the Lumberjacks' NHL affiliate, buying the franchise.

Kassigkeit bought the Cleveland franchise just days before the season started for $1.8 million from Larry Gordon, who moved the Lumberjacks from Muskegon in 1992 to take advantage of Gund Arena, which opened in downtown Cleveland two years later. Kassigkeit also borrowed money from other IHL owners to run the operation and signed an agreement that he had the financial means to keep the franchise active for this season.

Kassigkeit reported that he has lost at least $1 million so far this season, four times as much as he initially projected.

  • Just don't say, "Check, please." You might get more than you bargained for. Members of the Grand Rapids Griffins will be celebrity bartenders and waiters from 6 to8 p.m., Feb. 12, at the Max & Erma's locations in Grand Rapids and Grandville. Raffle tickets for hockey games and paraphernalia will be available, and all proceeds will benefit Special Olympics.

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