Lines In The Sand

February 21, 2003
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Throwing a pebble in water creates a ripple; throwing 44 boulders into the water would create the kind of wave action made last week when the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce used the names of 44 politicians and business leaders to announce its stepped-up campaign to halt Potawatomi plans for a casino in Wayland. Such was the intent. So it would surprise no one that any action creates an equal and opposite reaction (though how equal may yet be determined).

The day after: Callers to the Business Journal indicated the Allegan Chamber of Commerce, and possibly the Kalamazoo chamber, were “inundated” with calls to express their apologies for Grand Rapids in the inference that those 44 leaders know best or better than the Wayland, Allegan and Kalamazoo chambers, which have supported the Potawatomi plan. An Allegan Chamber representative told Business Journal sources that some offered to fund counter moves purely to “make up for the elitist attitude” represented by the power block.

Further backlash is anticipated in regard to the “West Coast” travel/tourism/convention campaign promotion, especially in regard to images of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in conjunction with the Cedar Fair Inc. property in Muskegon and other lakeshore scenes.

Two days after: Elders in the Grand Rapids Business community called the Business Journal to pose the “free enterprise question,” adding that despite the GRACC’s position that Indian gaming is the block to free enterprise as a monopolistic practice, “it doesn’t wash.”

Some members of the steering committee of 44 indicate they signed on because it is a fundamental moral issue, not because it is an economic issue.

A member of the Downtown Development Authority rhetorically asked why the GRACC did not consult the DDA, especially in light of the fact that the DDA has the most to lose in the GRACC scenario. Nor were members of the city commission consulted, save Rev. Robert Dean, who is believed to be acting as an anti-casino co-chair based on his ministry and GRACC membership.

One GRACC member remarked that GRMAYOR would have to hurry with his plan for rail transit, and create a line to Wayland first.

Some longtime GRACC members of stature have said they are embarrassed. The boldface names that usually dot the above paragraphs were not used because most of the individuals believe they would face backlash from the “money men” and requested anonymity — for now — though they made their viewpoints clear in GRACC policy meetings prior to the announcement. The policy meetings, however, did not necessarily include the manner in which the opposition would be presented or that those 44 would comprise a steering committee of opposition.

Conversely, it is important to note here that it also is likely that not every member of the Wayland, Allegan or Kalamazoo chambers is unanimous in support of the Potawatomi.

Word is that Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Brown had been invited to debate casinos, any time, with well-known GR Native American activist Levi Rickert, who is left wanting for a date. Rickert, who has assisted the Gun Lake Potawatomi band in its continuing pursuit of a tribe casino in Wayland, believes the crux of the issue is that white men want casinos, too, and are loathe to provide a giveaway to Native Americans. How might Rickert believe such a thing? Blue Chip Casinos, a privately held partnership with gaming tables in Michigan City, Ind., is a full-fledged GR chamber member. Its group of investors are from Illinois, the state by which the GRACC economic impact statement makes comparisons. No such comparisons are made of Michigan gaming communities, and Rickert believes the best comparison is in Traverse City and Peshawbestown, where the tribe has turned economic woes into state-of-the-art schools and “livable communities.”

GRACC anti-casino steering committee member Peter Secchia dismisses Rickert, saying Rickert doesn’t have the time to debate the issue because Rickert needs to work.

Rickert notes surrounding chamber support for the Wayland casino and well-used national marketing statistics, which clearly show differentiation between conventioneers and casino travelers.

Meanwhile, some members of the Muskegon City Commission have made no bones that they and Mayor Steve Warmington are open to listening to and talking about a plan for a casino in the downtown. Brown said the GRACC steering committee would not specifically target the Muskegon plan, but rather offer Gov. Jennifer Granholm a “new economic basis by which to reject all new casinos in Michigan.”

The economic impact report was prepared by the Anderson Economic Group (not a Big 8 accounting firm), founded in 1996 by Patrick L. Anderson, Gov. JohnEngler’s former chief of staff of the Michigan Department of State and deputy director of the Michigan Department of Management and Budget. (Engler now serves on Secchia’s Universal Forest Products board of directors.) Most of Anderson’s staff is well connected to the Mackinac Center and the Republican Party. Analyst Christine LeNet has worked several political campaigns, including that of Mike Rogers for Congress and the George W. Bush campaign for President.

Brown said it was widely known that Engler backed off his late-term opposition to casinos based on a casino investment group formed by two Engler friends, but that the pair backed off the casino deal leaving the former governor “very embarrassed.”

  • In real economic news: Site Selection magazine has once again anointed Michigan with a top berth in its annual polling of all 50 states in regard to new business developments and expansions.

Site Selection Editor Mark Arend commended Gov. Granholm and noted Michigan posted in second place, just a “photo finish” behind Illinois. Michigan was well ahead of No. 3 California — by 7,498 developments (or a total of 9,700 major new developments between 1997 and 2002).           

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