On The Road Again

August 21, 2006
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Downtown is on the move again.

Yes, JackBuchanan is proposing a new luxury hotel for Calder Plaza, meaning the city and Kent County will have to find (or, have found for them) new digs. But that’s old news.

It seems a new move is afoot, or at least in the works.

Kristi Jackson, formerly of Opus 1894 and Sierra Room fame, is hoping to open a restaurant and bar called Lewis-Benton Steakhouse. She and her partners, Brad Ethridge and Michael Eggleston, are planning to put their 250-seat eatery at 77 Monroe Ave. NW in the Michigan National Bank Building. They are negotiating to lease 13,100 square feet in the ground floor suite, which will be totally renovated.

It will be renovated because no one considers a bank to have the ambiance required of a top-notch steakhouse.

So, where will Standard Federal Bank go? The former Michigan National Bank operation certainly won’t leave town, based on the market share it enjoys locally (see July 8 Business Journal, page 1)

Maybe it’s time, then, for expansion.

There are some maneuverings going on at the Trust Building downtown, and word has it that three floors are being cleared for an unnamed “financial institution.” Building owner GeorgeWanty is mum on the situation until any sort of deal is finished, but he said negotiations are ongoing. He would not confirm the name of a new tenant.

Meanwhile, Jackson and crew are asking for a liquor license from the Liquor Control Commission in Lansing, by way of the Downtown Development Authority. The city’s involvement stems from a 1997 law that made available more liquor licenses to stimulate development in economically disadvantaged areas of downtowns across the state. The DDA, with approval from the City Commission, can make a recommendation to the state for such a license.

Ironically, it was Jackson and then-partners Christine Gill and Richard Lowack who voiced opposition to what were termed “free” liquor licenses then, arguing that their established restaurants had to pay top dollar for their licenses on the open market while upstarts forked over about $100 for the new ones.

Change is good.

The DDA is scheduled to review the request on Aug. 14.

  • Oh, no, say it ain’t so. DonBratt, vice president of marketing for Byron Center State Bank, took exception with the July 1 Street Talk indicating that BCSB was operating under a federal “memorandum of understanding.”

The bank is currently not operating under any such tether, Bratt said. Yes, federal regulators are working with the bank, but “all banks have that at times. There is a perception that the feds are after us, but that’s not true. We’re a very solid bank.”

In fact, Bratt said Byron Center State Bank has just about doubled in size over the last four years, and the feds have simply cautioned the bank to not grow too fast. He said BCBS will open another branch on July 16 in Grandville (a former Fifth Third building) as planned. Previously announced branches in Jenison and Wayland are in the regulatory approval process, he said.

On the corporate side, John Van Singel, president and CEO of BCBS and its holding company, now will hold the same titles for just the holding company.

“We’re adding an executive position (president) for the bank so John can concentrate on the holding company. So if anything, we’ll be adding people in the future.”

Bratt said BCBS will be looking throughout the region for the best candidate for bank president.

“This is very important for us. We’ll get the best person we can.”

  • How’s this for an attention-grabber? “Open Letter to All Racist Banks and Lenders!”

That’s the headline on page 5 in the June issue of Equality Magazine, a publication that claims, “Nobody reaches more African Americans in West Michigan.”

The target is the “best lenders” mentioned in the study on mortgage lending discrimination in West Michigan that was delivered in April to the Grand Rapids City Commission by Michigan State University’s JoeDarden

Equality magazine, whose publisher and founder is RobertLaDew, says the study “confirms” what blacks and Hispanics have known for years about the practices of mortgage lenders.

The following was underlined in the open letter: “It’s clear, ‘Results of the analyses confirm the hypothesis that racial discrimination exist(s) in the Grand Rapids mortgage lending market,’ said researcher Joe T. Darden, Ph.D. Something else is very clear from the recommendations, ‘lending institutions should advertise in minority-oriented media.’ If mortgage lenders are going to get serious about reaching the Black community they MUST advertise in publications like Equality Magazine. When will lenders support the Black Press?”

Hmm. What’s the real issue here? Advertising in a certain publication (including Grand Rapids Business Journal), doesn’t necessarily mean support for a certain portion of the community as a whole.

If lending practices need to be changed, then advocate for change.

But don’t try to hold anyone hostage with lines like this: “Equality Magazine will follow up with all 52 lenders and try to get them to reach out to the Black community by placing ads in our magazine as the report recommends. We will print their response in Equality.”

That borders on blackmail or, worse, extortion.

  • File this name away as a candidate to replace DennisKozlowski as CEO of Tyco Corp.: John Blystone.

Blystone is chairman, president and CEO of SPX Corp., formerly located in Muskegon, and under his leadership the company has grown from a $1 billion to a $5 billion operation annually.

To that end, the SPX board last week granted Blystone 500,000 shares of SPX restricted stock that will vest in increments of 100,000 from 2007-2011.

Why?

“The action taken by the board today is intended to indicate this board’s commitment to retain Mr. Blystone as the company’s chairman, president and chief executive officer for the foreseeable future,” said board member J. Kermit Campbell

By the way, those shares trade in the $120 range. Each.  

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