Springtime Flowers

December 22, 2006
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April

When the mystery developer was revealed as Atlanta businessman Duane Faust, who is the founder of ESNA Corp., a mortgage and real estate firm with offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles, the landowners — who had never met Faust —  were noticeably surprised. Some even withdrew their support. Eric Wynsma of Terra Firma Development put his mystery development properties on

Grandville Avenue SW
back on the market, and in November sold them to John Green, former Second Story Properties partner and current Elevation Group principal.

The Convention and Arena Authority and Broadway Theatre Guild warmly supported the RiverGrand proposal for a 2,500-seat concert venue. Laurie Volk, the consultant who in 2004 wrote a regional housing market analysis for the Grand Valley Metro Council along with a separate study for the Downtown Development Authority, did not believe the RiverGrand proposal for 1,500 condominiums was grounded in reality.

Another mystery was the prominent decline in interest among the nation's 11 presidential museums, especially the GeraldR.FordMuseum in Grand Rapids. From 1998 to 2004, attendance fell 41 percent.

But have faith in the region: Local investment banking firm Hartwick Capital, legal counsel Warner Norcross & Judd and communications firm Lambert Edwards and Associates all played a role in a $300 million marriage between Wall Street and the Bible Belt, creating the $28 billion church finance industry's first loan syndication.

Filling a noticeable gap in the city's music scene, The Mackinaw Harvest Group opened a downtown music studio at

347 National Ave. NW
, kitty-corner from the CommunityMediaCenter at
711 Bridge St. NW

City officials welcomed a report from the 19-member citizen budget advisory panel, but dismissed some of its primary suggestions, including the elimination of the economic development team.

Farmington Hills-based KG Development proposed a 14-screen movie theater to be built on the site of the Area 4 parking lot downtown. The same developer is also attempting to acquire the Area 5 parking lot. Coupled with the PublicWorksIsland and close to a dozen other parcels, the city's property fire sale could prove the year's largest economic driver.

As the acquisition of Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Co. by Midwest private equity firm Wind Point Partners began to pick up speed, changes at another legacy furniture company, Keeler Brass Co., led the city to take a careful look at its Renaissance Zone policy. Keeler and sister company Belwith International in Grandville were consolidated with three other companies to create Hickory Hardware, to be based in Tennessee

The former Lear manufacturing facility on Alpine Avenue in Walker was granted a Ren Zone of its own. The Blue Bridge Ventures reuse project welcomed its first tenant, Amstore, in May. Depending on current negotiations with Grand Rapids Spring & Stamping, which has plans to move some of its operations to the facility, the nearly 800,000-square-foot facility could soon be entirely leased.

In other news, toolmaker Synergis Technologies Group formed a strategic alliance with three of China's largest tool and die manufacturers, and Keith Malmstadt, president of Great Lake Woods Inc., was recognized as the Michigan Small Business Administration's Small Business Person of the Year.

Muskegon-area insurance firm Fremont Michigan InsuraCorp Inc. enjoyed a three-year run as a publicly traded company in which its stock tripled in price. It was one of only eight Michigan companies to go public in the last five years. Meanwhile, Meritage Hospitality Group continued to explore the possibility of deregistering from the American Stock Exchange to avoid the costly burden of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

May

While the perception of the state's economy remained sour, there was no shortage of exciting development news coming out of West Michigan in May.

The Steelcase plant appeared to have a buyer in Ashley Capital. The Lear plant had its first tenant. With the Tall House Enterprises condominium and retail project on the drawing board for

45 Ionia Ave. SW, Rockford
Construction Co.'s decade-long Cherry Street Landing development was finally complete.

There was the possibility of a 1 million-square-foot Wal-Mart distribution center in Dorr. Muskegon theme park Michigan's Adventure debuted its largest capital expenditure in 50 years, the $5 million "Grand Rapids."

In philanthropic news, the DeVos family donated $50 million toward the new $190 million Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. The Frey Foundation was funding a $500,000 conference center for Pine Rest Mental Health Services.

And at long last, a deal was reached between Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican leadership to allow the Interurban Transit Authority to apply for $14.4 million in federal funds for the second phase of its Great Transit, Grand Tomorrows transportation study. The move gave the transit authority the chance to compete for the New Starts federal grants that Congress authorized for The Rapid transit system — funds specifically designated for the preliminary engineering of a fixed gateway corridor project.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit challenging the legality of tax incentive programs in Michigan and other states.

If all these spring flowers weren't enough, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association announced the Resource Reclamation Project, a program that will put inmates at correctional facilities in Ionia and Jackson to work disassembling office furniture to be sold as scrap. The initiative addresses a critical fault in the furniture industry's closed-loop aspirations, and provides a model for furniture industries to work with the private sector, rather than against it.

Piggybacking on the Public Works Island performance hall proposal, the Convention and Arena Authority began conversations with KentCounty to acquire 40 acres of land in MillenniumPark for an outdoor concert venue.

June

When the smoke cleared in the first phase of the city's marketing of the PublicWorksIsland, it held a disappointing three letters of interest. Grand Rapids Development Corp.'s RiverGrand was represented, along with local Moch International, and Buffalo, N.Y.,-based Barnes-Stevens Redevelopment.

The Barnes-Stevens proposal called for an eight-mile "riverwalk" and a town-square-style pedestrian plaza. The Moch proposal featured the pairing of a performing and visual arts center with an urban market. As for RiverGrand, the proposal to the city wasn't nearly as explicit as the two-year-old version leaked months earlier, projecting only a combination of housing (25 percent), office space (25 percent), retail and entertainment (35 percent) and general development (15 percent).

After much debate, a formal request-for-proposals was finally released last month. In June, G.R. Development announced a list of respected local contractors and consultants it had enlisted as strategic partners in RiverGrand, but much of its land assemblage is no longer under option. After captivating West Michigan for months, the project has largely faded into the background.

Also fading away was the Single Business Tax, as legislators this summer voted to bury the levy for good on Dec. 31, 2007. The final nail in the tax's coffin was driven by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who ignited a statewide petition drive to place the SBT repeal on the November ballot, effectively veto-proofing the measure. Gov. Granholm stopped a similar effort because lawmakers hadn't included a revenue source to replace the nearly $2 billion in state revenue it provides.

A study by the Institute of Medicine found the nation's emergency rooms are overcrowded. The number of emergency rooms fell by 425 (or 198,000 beds) between 1993 and 2003, even as the overall demand for emergency care grew by 26 percent. Fortunately for residents of West Michigan, local hospitals cooperate to manage patient flow and have streamlined processes. Spectrum Health had the nation's 19th busiest emergency department in 2005, for instance, but managed to cut its average wait time to less than 30 minutes.

MVP Sportsplex submitted plans in CascadeTownship to build a 15-acre multi-sport development. Baker Furniture announced it would cease operations in Grand Rapids in the coming year, turning its 350,000-square-foot

Monroe Avenue
facility into yet another historical redevelopment opportunity.

The contract furniture industry celebrated its annual trade show, NeoCon, with most manufacturers trying to distance themselves from cubicle-type designs. The best example came from Herman Miller Inc., which won the Best of Competition Award for its My Studio Environments office system.

Local textile design shop Studio Z had a big month between NeoCon and Convergence, the textile industry trade show held this year at

DeVos Place
. The two events marked its launch of four concepts for at least four markets.

The X-Rite-Amazys merger hit a snag with an unexpected disclosure from X-Rite CEO Michael Ferrara concerning the bankruptcy of a company he led for 11 years. The merger proceeded without incident, but Ferrara was gone by October, replaced by President Thomas Vacchiano.    

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