Faux Faust

October 2, 2006
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After months of doing the billion-dollar-development dance, the crew at WOOD TV-8 has thrown Atlanta businessman Duane Faust under the bus. Gone are the days of team coverage extolling the virtues of his proposed RiverGrand project and the impassioned reporting of Suzanne Geha that had characterized the mystery development hysteria.

For those who haven’t been paying attention: The TV folks unearthed a pair of fairly recent Atlanta lawsuits against Faust for back rent and a defaulted bank credit line. To make matters worse, Faust won’t return the station’s calls.

See, this is what happens when you create a monster: You have to feed it. Just about everyone involved in the development and the city’s efforts to market the central part of the plan, the PublicWorksIsland at

201 Market Ave. SW
, doesn’t seem to give a rip. Mayor George Heartwell all but told off a pestering camera crew during an interview outside city hall.

“I asked Duane if this has a financial bearing on his ability to do this project, and the answer is no,” said Don Hunt, the Lambert Edwards partner who has served as Faust’s spokesman since he was first introduced to the region last spring. “To me there is no benefit in getting into a lot of the minutia. Duane has told me that it’s not relevant to RiverGrand, and as far as I’m concerned, the next piece of news is when we get the RFP.”

The Mayor has said there are going to be some high standards for participation, Hunt noted, and one can only assume there will be an exhaustive due diligence involved. And it’s worth noting how this stuff works: A developer can be an outright villain and still get a project off the ground.

Take the only local firm involved in the city’s RFP process, Moch International. No offense to the Joes Moch, but Poppa Moch has a history as checkered as a tabletop at T.G.I. Fridays — and their Icon On Bond condominium tower is nearly complete. As for lawsuits, the owner of the

Grandville Avenue
plot on which Moch intends to build its Presidio apartment complex, Cardiel Properties, filed a lawsuit against the city of Grand Rapids in April. These things happen.

Hunt was annoyed to hear that Faust had supposedly “disappeared.”

“He changed his numbers back when everything broke,” Hunt said. “They aren’t listed now for that reason. Every bank and property owner this side of Portland, Mich., had been calling him.”

But, let’s not forget what Hunt’s role is in the project. If the ship is sinking, the PR guys play to the bitter end. Recall this Hunt quote to the Business Journal from May 22, 2000, “All the engineers and architects are still trying to hammer out the best way to lay it out…But that doesn’t mean we are walking away from it. The intent to build is still there.”

The then DP Fox spokesman was discussing a proposed 25-story Class A downtown office building to be built on an Ellis Parking lot. It never happened.

  • Hilary Koprowski, M.D., the creator of the live polio vaccine, visited The Van Andel Institute Friday. During the 1940s through 1950s, his research focused on the use of live viruses that were rendered non-virulent rather than the killed viruses that became the basis for the polio injections created by Jonas Salk.

The resulting oral polio vaccine was first administered in February 1950, and was the first such vaccine to be used in mass trials. During the ensuing 10 years, his vaccine was used extensively on four continents. He also developed a more effective and less painful rabies vaccine.

  • From last week’s Grand Rapids City Commission agenda: “Resolution providing for the publication and subsequent adoption of an ordinance to prohibit the playing of hockey at the Rosa Parks Circle Ice Rink."

Forgetting that ice skating there is administered by the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation, this is cause for concern that our elected officials might be getting a bit ordinance-happy. Banning strip clubs and secondhand smoke is a stretch, but defensible. Hockey at the ice park? Not so much.

  • Within hours of each other, the region’s two publicly traded furniture companies announced quarterly results showing a local industry on increasingly solid footing. Still a far cry from the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, both Steelcase and Herman Miller reported their strongest sales of the past five years.

But the big story was Zeeland-based Miller’s 20.3 percent increase in profits to $28.5 million (43 cents per share), with surprisingly optimistic guidance for the coming quarter of an up to 16 percent increase in sales and a 33 percent to 43 percent increase in earnings per share.

The news sent Miller shares skyrocketing from $29.20 immediately before the announcement to over $35 late last week, $10 higher than the firm’s one-year low in July.

Coincidentally, company chairman Michael Volkema sold 28,000 shares last week, with senior vice president Jim Christenson cashing out 78,000 shares and Chief Administrative Office Andrew Lock 80,000 shares. Do the math; it pays to make Wall Street smile.

  • GrandValleyStateUniversity will host far left columnist Christopher Hitchens tomorrow for a program tomorrow night at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

Gleaves Whitney, director of GrandValley’s HauensteinCenter for Presidential Studies, called Hitchens “one of the finest polemicists in the United States today,” and said that his “surprising view of the Iraq War and President Bush” would be of particular interest to local political hobbyists.

  • In addition to Pulaski Days, this weekend marks the Third Annual “Isn’t It Grand…Lending A Hand” Grand River cleanup. Over the past two years, the program has removed over 15 tons of trash and scrap metal from the banks of the river.

The event kicks off at at SixthStreetPark.    

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