Rough Riders

May 29, 2002
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Michigan native and University of Michigan alumni Gary Hamel is the business guru of strategic investment and “out-of-the-box” creativity. He’s been walking boardrooms across the country for a decade preaching the gospel of research and development. It seems certain he would cheer Gentex Chairman and CEO Fred Bauer in the announcement that the company is putting its money in R&D — even though that means issuing a warning that quarterly earnings will be lower than anticipated to do so. Company spending on R&D now equals 6 percent of its net sales.

  • City commissioners recently approved a complex arrangement with a local daily newspaper to build a new parking ramp along Monroe Avenue near Trowbridge Street.

The facility, which could have up to 900 spaces and could cost up to $10 million, would be the first for the North Monroe business district, an area that desperately needs the spaces. After the unanimous commission vote, the city sent its plan for the ramp to the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, which also must approve the project.

Word is the state agency will do that next month. Or will it?

The plan has the ramp being built over three separately owned parcels. The biggest belongs to the newspaper, the smallest to Quality Auto Service Center. The middle parcel is owned by the county, and its administration hasn’t come to terms with the city yet.

In fact, Al Vanderberg, assistant county administrator, recently told the Business Journal that talks with the city about selling the property had only just begun. He said the county hadn’t decided what it wanted in return for the property, but that it would likely have to be more than having the city replace the 65-or-so parking spaces it would lose in the deal.

After all, Vanderberg noted, the parcel is an asset, situated across Monroe from the east bank of the Grand River and only a short pitching wedge from a luxury apartment building.

Despite going ahead without getting the county signed on the dotted line, the city has kept his department informed of its action. Vanderberg said that Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong called to say that commissioners would be voting on the deal before the vote occurred.

  • It’s a dirty business: The Convention & Arena Authority doesn’t want anything to do with the dirt being dug from the new convention site, likely weary of the commotion just up the street at the B&G building where contaminated soil removal is an issue for the Michigan Attorney General’s office. The CAA quietly made Erhardt-Hunt responsible for removal of the dirt from the Grand Center site, which is to be taken to a landfill in Coopersville, which is authorized to accept contaminants because of its clay base. Ottawa County Farms can accept everything but hazardous waste, as it’s a type-two landfill. Bids for the excavating and then the removal have been taken and the winning firms could be announced as soon as Wednesday when the CAA meets.
  • Ron Brown, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, took a bit of a back-stabbing last week concerning his opposition to a new Indian gambling casino proposed for a site in Zeeland Township.

In an on-air interview with WOOD, Brown argued that the casino would make life much tougher for the entertainment industry in this community. You can see his point: Downtown Grand Rapids has more or less been resurrected in the past two decades thanks to a river of investments. Nobody wants to see that turn-around turn around again.

But when Brown went back to the office, the show’s host in effect said: Tough! Downtown nightlife firms are businesses for whom challenges like competitors are a fact of life.

Well, that’s pretty facile remark. But a casino isn’t just another competitor. In fact, thanks to its vast government-protected gambling revenue stream, casinos can afford to pay rates for top-flight performers that most independently owned nightspots couldn’t even dream about, let alone rival.

With a casino that close, the competitive nightspot playing field around here would be about as level as Mount St Helens.

  • The economic gains established by Michigan’s Native American community can’t be disputed, but the West Michigan coalition opposed to casino gambling in this area hasn’t been called racist for its stand. But if Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue was in charge…

Mayhue most recently made such accusations in regard to an area redistricting proposal that carves up his commission district.

State Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow and Sen. Bill Schutte, Reapportionment Committee Chairman, last week announced the deadline for public input on redistricting would be extended (the new cutoff is noon, June 25). There was no comment on the problem areas.

  • The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved $150 million in taxpayer subsidies for apple farmers last week. The White House is threatening a veto of the spending measure. The New York Times offered an explanation of the apple subsidy, getting right to the core of the issue:

“A lot of apples are grown in a lot of members’ districts,” said Rep. C.W. Young, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Somebody asked me, is this issue Democrat or Republican, is this liberal or conservative?” Young said. “No. This is pure geography. If you have apples, you’re going to vote for the amendment.”

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