What It Is

February 27, 2004
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Street Talk is Street Talk: sometimes a flagpole for ideas and concerns, sometimes insight into back room maneuvering or inside a deal. And always a tattletale.

Last week Street Talk included observations related to meetings in a downtown restaurant, related to Kent County employees, related to politicians and related to Web sites.

It is true that the county’s IT director is out and a new department head is being sought. It is true that the famous KimScott still owns the “under construction” Web site www.devosplace.com. But county management was surprised by the inferences of Ms. Scott’s influence in her department, related to political connections.

It is especially important to note that Kent County Board Chairman DavidMorren was adamant in his investigation, and in maintaining the integrity of the commission … and of county employees.

Morren told the Business Journal, “I am quite concerned. I am appalled and surprised. I have a very short amount of patience with this, if there is any way someone, one of my peers, crosses over the line. And county employees should not be consorting with politicians and community leaders outside of their job function.” Whether or not his follow-up meetings net any proof of consorting, Morren thought it an opportunity to underscore the integrity of the commission, the county and the intolerance of abridging such trust.

  • DavidFrey ended his four-year term on the Convention and Arena Authority Board last week. He was chosen by then-Gov. JohnEngler to be the state’s lone representative on the seven-member panel. Frey will continue to chair the CAA Building Committee.

The CAA recognized his leadership last week in getting Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place built.

“Without David there wouldn’t be a convention center,” said JohnLogie, CAA chairman.

CVB President SteveWilson praised Frey for his efforts in the local tourism industry, too.

“David was very active in the planning stages (of Michigan’s West Coast),” said Wilson.

Logie said Frey and DickDeVos talked with him about an arena and a new convention center for the city when he first took office as mayor in 1992.

“It’s been a tremendous journey. It’s been a tremendous 12 years,” said Frey. “The journey isn’t over, by the way.”

Say what?

Frey said the Grand Action Committee, the private sector group that he co-chairs with DeVos and JohnCanepa, is looking at a third project and that an announcement would be coming by the end of the month.

While Frey said prognosticators would have to wait at least another 30 days, it’s been rumored that Grand Action is interested in another performing arts center in the downtown area.

The Grand Rapids Symphony, Opera Grand Rapids, Broadway Theatre Guild and Grand Rapids Ballet Company currently share space at DeVos Performance Hall. The arrangement, for the most part, has worked quite well with each of the tenants exercising some give-and-take.

But flash back to last December, when the Calvin College Oratorio Society wanted to perform “The Messiah” on certain weekend dates during the Christmas season and found, in a manner of speaking, no room at the inn.

RichDeVos stepped in and pleaded for the longstanding holiday performance, but just a few feathers were ruffled by the whole situation.

If a new performing arts center were to be built, it would make sense for the Symphony to be the major tenant, as it has the most dates at DeVos Performance Hall. Giving the orchestra its own primary location would thereby free up dates at DeVos Performance Hall for the area’s other arts players.

But where would such a facility be built?

Three sites have been mentioned, but not in an official capacity. Contenders might include the Olds Manor building, which is owned by the DeVos and Van Andel families and sits across the street from DeVos Place. A second possibility is the Alticor parking lot at Market Avenue and Fulton Street. And another place that’s been mentioned is the Kent County Administration Building, which sits on Calder Plaza directly across from the front entrance to DeVos Place. The county, by the way, is in the midst of purchasing riverfront land on Monroe Avenue that would be large enough to hold a new admin building, and it plans to next year purchase an office building it currently leases at 82 Ionia Ave.

None of these is an “official” site, nor is a performing arts center an “official” project.

But whatever Grand Action decides to do, it will have its (fundraising) work cut out for it.

The city and county, which were major players in the construction of DeVos Place, now find themselves in a totally different fiscal situation. Grand Rapids is more than $30 million in the hole, according to its budget projections, and Kent County is just slightly north of $10 million in the red.

The private sector will be needed more than ever.

A replacement for Frey’s CAA position, by the way, has yet to be named. Gov. JenniferGranholm is supposed to make a selection this month (the only name we’ve heard more than once is attorney GaryMcInerney), but she’s been busy with some fiscal problems of her own.

  • A-courting they will go. MSU President PeterMcPherson came to town Thursday to speak to the Rotary Club, but he didn’t go anywhere alone. McPherson, who talked about the future of MSU’s medical school and how Grand Rapids fits into the picture, had Spartan booster and West Michigan cheerleader PeterSecchia glued to him throughout the presentation.

About the only time McPherson was able to shake Secchia, even briefly, was when VAI Chairman DavidVanAndel whisked the MSU president into a private room for a little face-to-face time.

McPherson said a med school relocation/expansion decision should come by May, but many observers wonder if it’s not already a done deal.     

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