Of Calder Dreams And Political Schemes

August 9, 2002
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The toughest decision for the Grand Rapids City Commission and staff next week will be moving plans, and what will best accommodate the anchor city of the West Michigan region in a new millennium.

For some community members it may seem that the plan to develop Calder Plaza with a 24-story hotel across from the new convention center sprang from nowhere. George Bernard Shaw offers perhaps the best explanation of the new proposal for downtown: "You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'" The quote has been used more familiarly and more recently by politicians, and it is local politicians to whom the discussion falls.

A younger leader in the Grand Rapids business community has had the vision since 1994, and it is one that has received down payment from investors, architects and market research firms from all corners of the country: L.A., Houston and Boston. Grand Rapids-based Blue Bridge Ventures President Jack Buchanan envisions Calder Plaza abuzz with people, lending clear evidence to all who visit that this community is an exciting, growing, dynamic place in which to live. (And, moreover, that Calder Plaza can be so inviting and engaging.) Former city commissioner George Heartwell held a similar vision. He hoped to see such a gathering place come of either the new courthouse or the proposed public art square, a vision that preceded what became Rosa Parks Circle.

If the pure energy of such activity is not enough, add the money:

  • Houston-based Hines Interests LP will pay the cost of moving the city and county offices and for their new location.

  • A 24-story downtown hotel would create 350 jobs.

  • The city would receive $4 million in new property taxes over the next 15 years.

  • The 300- to 400-room hotel would add dollars to the hotel/motel tax coffer.

  • The project would add to city income tax and personal property tax revenues.

  • A large portion of the city's SmartZone is home to schools, government offices and nonprofit organizations — institutions that do not pay taxes. The project would create a paying proposition in place of the city and county buildings.

Further, a move of city and county offices would likely provide full use of currently vacant downtown building space.

A convention center study completed five years ago showed the city would need another 1,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the new center, and the hotel makes the convention center more marketable.

Though the potential of this project is incredible, it is even more important that the community continues to be home to dreamers, doers and leaders like Jack Buchanan.           

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