MacKeigan Did The Right Thing

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — When the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) abruptly folded last month and the Grand Rapids Hoops switched leagues and buildings, Van Andel Arena Manager Rich MacKeigan found himself caught in the middle and embroiled in controversy.

MacKeigan decided to lock the Hoops out of their arena office and take possession of the franchise’s assets, which included furniture, computers, team uniforms and the mascot’s costume, in order to protect the city’s investment.

“I contacted (law firm) Dickinson Wright and between Dick Wendt and his associate Geoff Fields, they assured me that there was all the legal ground in the world to make sure we protected our assets and our interests,” said MacKeigan. “We then locked up the Hoops assets, waiting for some type of direction from the rightful owner of those assets.”

MacKeigan works for SMG Inc., the management firm hired to run the daily operations at the arena and Grand Center, and he took a healthy dose of public criticism for that managerial decision from a number of sources — but not from his ultimate boss.

The Convention and Arena Authority (CAA), which owns and operates the arena, didn’t lose sight of the fact that the CBA breached its arena contract when league owner Isiah Thomas pulled the plug. The franchise had only played about half its home games at that point, and neither Thomas nor his representative bothered to contact MacKeigan to let him know what was going on.

“This was a landlord-tenant dispute,” said Mayor John Logie, also a CAA board member and partner at law firm Warner, Norcross & Judd. “The Hoops are a for-profit organization and they signed a lease. They breached it.”

CAA Chairman Steve Heacock then made a special effort to vindicate MacKeigan from the harsh public comments that claimed he mishandled the situation.

“Rich MacKeigan did everything right and did not deserve the criticism he received,” said Heacock. “He acted responsibly.”

The Hoops were in the final year of their five-year lease at the arena, in which they contracted for 28 dates, when the league folded.

MacKeigan told board members that he acted in the building’s best interest. He said the arena is facing a loss of about $75,000 from the cancellation of the remaining Hoops games, adding that each game was worth around $5,000 to the building.

But MacKeigan also remarked that the monetary loss wasn’t necessarily his biggest concern for the arena rising from the CBA shutdown. Instead, he said losing the league will negatively affect the arena’s part-time labor pool.

With fewer basketball games scheduled at the arena, MacKeigan said there would be less work for the conversion team — a crew that transfers the building from basketball to hockey to concerts and back again.

“It doesn’t sound like much,” said MacKeigan of the slowdown for these workers. “But it is important for our part-time labor situation.”

The city has put a lien on the Hoops assets that remain in the arena because the CBA owes about $25,000 in back taxes. Following that action, Thomas put the CBA into bankruptcy. And the CAA recently renewed its management agreement with SMG.

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