2002 Opportunity And Heartache
The month opened with huge news for West Michigan.
First, Blue Bridge Ventures and Hines Interests LP announced plans for a 400-room hotel on Calder Plaza, situated across from the new $220 million DeVos Place convention center. The catch: City and county administrations would have to be moved to make way for the construction. At year's end, negotiations on the project were still taking place.
But it was a done deal for Donnelly Corp. and Magna International when the Canadian auto supplier acquired the Holland-based maker of automotive mirrors, electronics components, door handles and window systems. The deal cost Magna $415 million in stock and assumed debt.
On the statewide front, a campaign to redirect Michigan's portion of the national tobacco settlement toward health care gained steam as a ballot amendment for the November election. Proposal 4, as it would come to be known, would be soundly defeated by voters at the end of the year.
For the first time since the statewide program's inception in 1996, the City Commission was considering creating a Ren Zone in downtown Grand Rapids. The move would come to fruition later in the year with four new Ren Zones, the last of the virtually tax-free zones allowed under the state program.
The beginning of the second half of the year took on a decidedly rosy tint when Wolverine World Wide, Universal Forest Products, Gentex, Mercantile Bank and Macatawa Bank all reported solid second quarters. To that end, Macatawa also announced the acquisition of Grand Rapids-based Grand Bank.
There was more hope in July as Hope Network and Faith Inc. joined forces to seamlessly merge the two nonprofits under the banner of Hope Network West Michigan, an affiliate of Hope Network. The agency then got more good news when the U.S. Department of Labor announced that, as part of the first round of national funding for faith-based organizations, it was receiving a $650,000 yearlong grant.
Holland also gained some national recognition when the National Trust for Historic Preservation named it one of "America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations."
The month started out with a bang as Spectrum Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan went head-to-head over reimbursement rates that the state's largest health insurer paid the region's largest health system. The nasty tiff would play out for weeks before a settlement (undisclosed, of course) averted a full standoff between the two that would have left thousands of West Michigan Blues clients looking for medical treatment at non-Spectrum facilities.
On a positive note, the Downtown Development Authority and Kent County Board of Commissioners agreed on a potential plan to erase a $12.7 million funding deficit for DeVos Place.
In Muskegon, a new not-for-profit corporation that included the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, the Paul C. Johnson Foundation and the city of Muskegon formed to provide local control over the future of the defunct Muskegon Mall downtown. The group would be successful in its endeavor later in the year and plans are underway for an "urban village" on the site.
Urban cleanup was at the root of the new Public Inebriate Center in Grand Rapids, too. Mel Trotter Ministries was behind the push to get intoxicated individuals off the streets, with help from Kent County Community Mental Health, Saint Mary's Mercy Medical Center, Spectrum Health, Metropolitan Hospital, the Downtown Improvement District, the Alliance for Health and Kent Emergency Medical Services. The project was the first of its kind in West Michigan.
Standard Federal Bank also looked at a new home, deciding to occupy three floors and nearly 36,000 square feet of the Trust Building. "We're planting our corporate flag in Grand Rapids because we believe it has a great future, and Standard Federal plans to be a part of it," said Dan Terpsma, group senior vice president.
Something new showed up at Van Andel Arena, too, as nets were erected to cover both ends of the ice rink in the aftermath of a young fan being killed at an NHL game in Columbus by an errant puck.
Finally, the Grand Rapids Art Museum moved closer to a new home when the DDA agreed to exchange with the city the DDA-owned DASH South property behind Van Andel Arena and east of U.S. 131 for the city-owned Wurzburg/Mutual Home property at the southwest corner of Ottawa Avenue and Monroe Center.
The Rapid marked its 5 millionth passenger of the year and projected that the mass transit system would haul 5.5 million riders over the course of the fiscal year. Ridership is up by 1 million over the past two years, officials said.
Select Bank, one of the small financial institutions in town, scored a big public relations coup by taking over the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame Classic Basketball Tournament, held annually over the Thanksgiving weekend and featuring teams from Aquinas, Calvin, Cornerstone, Grand Valley and Hope.
Grand Rapids Community College stayed on schedule with the opening of its Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC Center, a training site for students who are interested in the technical trades.
While the tech center is a reality, another dream is just starting. A group of businessmen is interested in creating an entertainment neighborhood, called the Arena District, in downtown Grand Rapids. It would include restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and shops, centered around an area near Van Andel Arena.
On the Lakeshore, another popular entertainment district no longer is within reach — at least from Muskegon County Airport. The financially beleaguered Great Lakes Airlines stopped three daily round-trip flights between Muskegon and Chicago's O'Hare Airport, leaving airport officials scrambling to find a replacement. The service remained in limbo at the end of the year.
Transportation of a different sort took center stage in Grand Rapids when the most expensive and most extensive parking study in the city's history got underway. The $153,800 study was to determine the traffic patterns and parking needs of the Michigan Street Hill Area.
A little further north, the city of Rockford was assessing different needs. Specifically, the city was looking to reshape its business district and was polling residents to find their vision for downtown.
A blast from the past was apparent on the medical front, as Bill Gonzalez, the former CEO of Spectrum Health, signed on for a six-month gig at Greenville's United Memorial Health System. Not to be outdone, the Van Andel Institute brought in former President Jimmy Carter as co-chair of the Hope on the Hill Foundation. Carter would win the Nobel Peace Prize a week after his West Michigan visit.
Herman Miller should get a prize of its own after announcing that it had returned to profitability. Quarterly sales rose 7.5 percent, and net income was $9.8 million. The office furniture maker predicted better days ahead and fulfilled that promise with another quarterly profit ($11.6 million) at the end of the year.
Also along the Lakeshore, Gentex Corp. announced organizational restructuring with Ken La Grand's plan to retire. The maker of automatic dimming mirrors for the automotive industry tabbed Garth Deur to replace him.
Two more firms joined the Family Owned Business Institute Hall of Fame when Rogers Department Store and Behler-Young entered into the fold.
There would be no hall of fame for Steelcase, however, which announced that it was still at least six months away from profitability. By year's end, the office furniture manufacturer would cut more than 36 percent of its local workforce.
In health news, Gov. Engler turned an about-face and supported an initiative designed to temporarily funnel millions in new Medicaid funding to hospitals across Michigan over the next two years.