Tower Of Power

November 15, 2004
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Industrial real estate tycoon Robert Grooters, of Grooters Development Co., has been among the most popular guys as seasonal gatherings give way to small talk (or in our vernacular, Street Talk). Grooters, who developed the giant flashcube (

Bridgewater Place
, more recently otherwise known as "Varnum"), said his long-awaited second tower, for which a footprint already exists, will be constructed … as high-end condos. "A wonderful place for people (of similar background) who know each other and this community." Word is the plans have been set and soon will be announced.

Grooters' second tower has long been stalled, especially as he insisted on building the twin towers on the west bank of the river … north of downtown (which, of course, at the time was not the "real downtown" as some insisted. It was feared the project would rob the real downtown of tenants.)

Now if we could just tell you there are plans for the neighboring Olds Manor, to which a skywalk has already been drawn in the plans for

DeVos Place
. Another new hotel?

Readers may recall that the rumble of what exactly caused Jack Buchanan to stumble was yet another plan showing that the eventual expansion of

DeVos Place
aims straight at CalderPlaza. (That's probably why city and county still shop for new space.) Buchanan had planned long and hard to put a world-class hotel on the plaza and spent years arranging backing to buy the buildings and move the governments. It might also be noted that his plan would not have put the bureaubrats on the city's most valuable property: the river banks.

  • Who has the ear of Gov. JenniferGranholm this week? Well, it's a long plane ride to Germany, and one can be certain that The Right Place Inc. President BirgitKlohs knows exactly how long it is.

Klohs will be among a select group of people accompanying the governor to Germany this week on an economic development mission.

"It's a small delegation, really, just the governor's MEDC staff, including (President) DonJakeway and myself, and a couple of people from Oakland County," Klohs said.

Of course, one of those OaklandCounty people is CountyExecutiveL. Brooks Patterson, who is rumored to be Granholm's TV husband.

That means pretty good odds for West Michigan if anything is brewing across the pond. Wonder how many others on the trip speak fluent German?

  • While Klohs and the governor are making friendly in the sky, airline carriers are looking for any friends they might find in the travel industry.

In fact, the region's most frequented carrier has a heavy Grand Rapids influence, but that apparently doesn't carry much weight with the local travel industry.

Northwest Airlines CEO DougSteenland and executive vice president DougHaan are both CalvinCollege alumni, with Haan growing up in Kelloggsville.

When Haan was in Grand Rapids last month for a program at GrandValleyStateUniversity, he touted the merits of Northwest and its tremendous working relationship with FordInternationalAirport, which is the carrier's second largest Michigan market after its Detroit hub.

After the program, he hosted a closed-door meeting with 10 local travel agents, who were happy for the opportunity to meet with airline management. But if Haan was hoping to sell Northwest, he was in for a surprise, because they weren't there to buy.

"We had concerns about the way the airlines regarded us," said LillianVanderVeen of Lenger Travel. "They don't regard us as true partners selling their products, and he was surprised to hear that."

"You aren't going to find many travel agents that value the friendship and partnership of the airlines because they haven't valued ours in a long time," added JohnLovell of Breton Village Travel Services Inc.

Five years ago, the airlines stopped giving commissions on ticket sales to agents, and although still a bitter subject, agents have adjusted. But they aren't willing to adjust to airline actions that deter them from selling tickets.

Agents used to be able to call up an airline representative to resolve problems, but that option no longer exists. Many airline policies create scheduling problems or penalties for agents when dealing with clients — these same policies, however, are often not enforced at the airline desk.

There have even been attempts to establish fees that charge agents for booking flights.

"I would love to sell their product, but I'm not going to go out of business doing it," Lovell said. "It has to generate some revenue for us. The airlines can't raise their prices, but they can't turn to us for help. It's hard to have sympathy for them."

Breton Travel has instead focused its efforts on cruises and vacation packages by companies like Apple Vacations that use charter aircraft.

"These companies provide a lot more value and offer a better product," Lovell said. "And they want our business."

"(Haan) listened and was very surprised by the things we were telling him," VanderVeen said. "We were happy that someone had just taken the time to listen to us."

  • What a difference a year (and some extra space) makes.

The 8th Annual March of Dimes Chefs Auction on Tuesday raised more than $154,000 for the charity, a nearly 50 percent increase over the previous year, said SamCummings, honorary event chairman.

Last year the event was wedged into whatever space wasn't under construction in what became

DeVos Place
. This year, however, almost 500 guests had the run of the place and sampled food from The 1913 Room, Sierra Room, San Chez, Gibson's, Noto's and several others. The food must have been outstanding, as a live auction of dining packages raised $58,850 of the total.    

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