Action Heroes

April 11, 2005
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News reports have fans waiting outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood for upwards of 50 days in anticipation of the opening of the next Star Wars installment, “Revenge of the Sith.”

Even KennyChesney doesn’t have that kind of following in Grand Rapids

But people who have a borderline fanatical interest in movies, regardless of the genre, are a hearty bunch and will travel (and wait) anywhere for their silver screen heroes.

And that’s what MarkHodges is banking on.

Hodges, a young Kentwood entrepreneur, and several friends are putting together something called Rivertown Expo, a two-day event planned for Sept. 16-17, 2006, at the Grand Inn on

Plainfield Avenue NE.

The event is centered around Hollywood films in the science fiction, horror, anime, super hero and action genres.

“This will happen,” Hodges said. “We’ve already got the place.”

Hodges calls the first year “starting out small,” but plenty of items already are on the agenda, and most look like they could blossom into continuous features.

There will be a “meet and greet” session with about 20 Hollywood personalities that are either currently working in film and/or have had roles in classic films in the above genres. Seminars and demonstrations by the same Hollywood personalities on their careers and crafts also will be part of the event.

Hodges said a children’s day featuring stories, movies and events geared to young visitors will be in place because a selection of the guests will be people who have been involved in children’s films in the past.

Other attractions include museum exhibits, rooms geared toward movie art, movie-related materials for sale, several film festivals and appearances by celebrities who will speak about the films in which they participated.

The two-day affair will end with a banquet, featuring one of the stars of the weekend, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Why is this significant to Grand Rapids

Because you’ve got to start somewhere.

Hodges and his friends are looking for investors to help grow the show. They are patterning the gathering after DragonCon, in Atlanta. That event (without investors) has over 15 years grown from a small hotel convention into a happening that draws 47,000 people, 20,000 of whom come from outside Atlanta and pump money into the food and lodging industry.

“Over 7,700 hotel rooms were rented out for the 2004 show, and the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce estimates that the event brings in between $12 million and $24 million into the Atlanta economy,” Hodges said. “To put this in perspective, this is 54 percent larger than any convention event scheduled at the

DeVos Place
or anywhere in KentCounty in the next three years.”

By 2008, Hodges hopes to move the show to

DeVos Place
and become the largest annual convention in the Grand Rapids area. Within the next 10 years he hopes to rival the Atlanta show.

“For the 2006 show we are looking to raise $60,000 to put on the event — $30,000 to put on the convention and $30,000 for a major Hollywood star and the banquet,” he said. “We are looking to sell 60 shares in the event at a cost of $1,000 each. It is our goal to gather a group of investors who want to stick with this event for the long haul as it grows and matures into what we would like it to become. Investors will be paid out annually within seven days from the end of the event based on the profit/loss of the event.”

As an aside to SteveWilson at the CVB: These folks probably think those camped out in Hollywood for the new Star Wars movie are lucky, not crazy.

  • Thirteen years ago, some may have thought DanGendler crazy.

Bringing the European-styled tapas dining experience to Grand Rapids certainly was a risk. But Gendler and a partner formed San Chez: A Tapas Bistro, and the downtown nightspot quickly became a favorite.

Last week, Gendler was elected into the West Michigan Hospitality Hall of Fame. He got his start in GRCC’s Hospitality Education Department and earned a degree in culinary arts in 1985.

“Many of you may be familiar with the ‘small-plate’ trend sweeping through the culinary world,” said Randy Sahajdack, program director of the college’s hospitality department, during the induction ceremony. “For those of us in Grand Rapids, that phenomena originated at the corner of Fulton and Ionia.”

  • Don’t think the success of San Chez has gone unnoticed locally, either.

Reconstruction starts today on the former Gaslight Inn in East Grand Rapids, a favorite neighborhood breakfast spot that will reopen this summer as something totally different.

“We want our customers to have unique menu choices that are unlike other dining options in the East Grand Rapids area,” said DanielWeiskopf, owner of Gourmet To Go Inc., which purchased the establishment.

He said those options include “tapas-style appetizers” such as ahi tuna tempura, seared duck with quince puree and baby lamb chops du jour.

Weiskopf plans to add full-length windows to the building, along with a hardwood bar, high-top bistro tables and stainless steel accompaniments. A patio on the east side of the building also will be added for summer dining.

The site is directly across the street from the mixed-use development Jade Pig’s ScottWierda and BrianDeVries plan to erect on the former Jacobson’s site, and that fact is not lost on Weiskopf.

“The new restaurant will definitely help in the fight to ‘reignite Gaslight,’” he said, referring to the city’s business district. “I am very excited to be a part of the East Grand Rapids community during this time of business growth.”    

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