Outside World Looks In On GR

April 2, 2006
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Development interests in Walker and in the city of Grand Rapids continued to show last week. Both communities are preparing particular sites, one is 238 acres, the other just 16 acres, for possible development. Neither site — they are not yet “projects” — has tenants or assigned absolute uses.

Last week Walker held a public hearing as part of the first step in a three-part process that will help city commissioners determine whether a large mixed-use development on property bordering I-96 and Bristol Avenue is good use of the land. Cabela’s is a possible tenant, but the franchise marketers freely indicate several sites are in the scope.

The process is similar in the city of Grand Rapids. But the comparatively small piece of land was conveniently and successfully used to hype broadcast ratings, which also inconveniently created a public “oversight” of sorts that almost no developer in this region has ever had to deal through.

RiverGrand Project is exactly what its facilitator (not developer) has indicated — more than a hundred times last week. It is a dream project, of which he is only the conductor. No facilitator has ever sent press releases about a “potential” project, prior to land acquisition. As the Business Journal reported Feb. 20, another several acres have been optioned, contiguous to the city’s 16 acres that are on the public auction block. The “developer” had strategically asked anyone involved to sign confidentiality agreements. In the shouting and dramatizations of the last few weeks, one, possibly two, of the property owners have demanded hard money knowing very well no part of the project is near that stage. It is seen here as an act of greed and one which in any development is threatening. Strip club owner Mark London literally led a Pied Piper’s march of media to a fake “closing,” getting the camera on his demand for “a truckload of money.”

RiverGrand is working with highly respected Atlanta attorney David Minkin, also named as the entity closing in on property options.

While wild and wilder rumors run amok, the facilitator candidly and obviously honestly answers every question asked of him.

Peter Secchia, Grand Rapids’ best known ‘wing man” (those who wait in the wings while “things” get done and calculate cost and financing), professes he is not involved with this project but that it is proceeding as he would expect. “Grand Rapids works because people have dreams. …These are young men who have been successful and who have dreams. I wish them good fortune on this.”

Further, those affiliated with Grand Action, the governor’s office and the mayor have suggested they are all ready and willing to assist.

City Commissioner Rick Tormala is easily tripped by media into shadow boxing. Mayor George Heartwell did what any official would do: stay in the loop on an issue that could have major regional impact and agree to keep a confidence (not secret) as the stage is being set. Tormala’s ego gets the best of him in whining about supposed improprieties that would have killed the project before it became an option. The city process of Request For Proposals is securely in place. So, too, is a new phase of development in Grand Rapids — one that finally shows that the outside world believes what the community believes of itself: It’s the right place.     

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