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December 22, 2006
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The holiday film season is in full swing. We’re not talking about what’s happening inside the movie houses, but instead what’s happening on the movie-making front.

Local entertainment buffs are trumpeting the passage of legislation that they say will thrust Michigan into the national picture when it comes to movie production.

“Filmmaking can generate millions of dollars in a community if a major production company uses it as a location,” said Deb Havens, chairwoman of the West Michigan Film Video Alliance’s board.

That’s why she’s pleased with legislation from Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, that’s currently awaiting the autograph of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The measure would offer tax incentives to filmmakers who use the Great Lakes State as a filming location.

“Before the approval of HB 5204, we could only offer incentives like room and meal discounts for crews that chose to shoot in West Michigan,” she said. “Now, West Michigan is a national player.”

She said the change in law would “change our economy, bring new production to West Michigan and keep many of our most creative people from leaving. We really have a legitimate shot at attracting major Hollywood productions with the natural beauty of our state and the talent of our local people combined with the extra incentives offered in this bill.”

Remember, the American Pie Presents series (which, while questionable in taste, is wildly popular among viewers) has its roots in East Grand Rapids. Who wants to look at a Toronto lakeshore trying to be passed off as one of Grand Haven’s beautiful beaches? Probably not Adam Herz.

**If you’ve ever asked the question, “Who watches a gubernatorial debate, anyway?” Here’s your answer: Dave Shepard.

The president and general manager of Sayfee’s Restaurant and Lounge was paying attention this fall when Granholm and Republican challenger Dick DeVos went head-to-head on live television.

His perception, however, was a little different from that of most Michiganders. He picked up on Granholm’s statement that she would make Michigan smoke-free if legislation to ban smoking ever crossed her desk.

Shepard isn’t waiting for that to happen and will eliminate smoking throughout the building on Jan. 2.

“We feel making Sayfee’s smoke free in the dining room and in the lounge will put us ahead of a trend that will soon be the standard in West Michigan establishments,” he said. “We will completely recondition the restaurant over the holidays, including cleaning the carpet, walls and ceilings to eliminate the smell of smoke.”

No word yet whether Mayor George Heartwell has dinner plans for the New Year.

**This is certainly not the type of story Gerry Barnaby would cover. The long-time TV happy face will find himself off the airwaves to begin 2007, the victim of a consolidation that brings the Battle Creek offices of WOTV to parent station WOOD-TV’s broadcast facilities in Grand Rapids.

Diane Kniowski, president and general manager of local TV empire WOOD, WOTV and WXSP, also announced that the local ABC affiliate’s segments will refocus on community projects and family-friendly coverage. “We have an outstanding advocate for kids and family in Maranda,” added Kniowski, referring to Lori Cook’s longtime kid-friendly TV persona. “She’ll continue to be the leader in developing innovative programs for children and families to watch together. Maranda is a vital part of our continuing commitment to community and will serve the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo area.”

That’s all well and good, but no one was more on-air friendly than Barnaby. At least BC Unlimited gets the station’s old building — for free — following the move.

**One of the remaining Original Six is gone. Bob Sack, one of the last few inaugural employees of the Grand Rapids Griffins, is moving on. He will become COO of the law firm McShane & Bowie following his last day with the franchise on Friday.

His final Griffins home game was last Wednesday and marked the 462nd home contest of his 11-and-a-half-year career, according to Randy Cleves, director of the American Hockey League team’s public relations.

It should be noted that Sack also was instrumental in forming an affiliation with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and in bringing the AHL’s All-Star Game to Grand Rapids.

The remaining original Griffins employees, now known as the Fab Five, are General Manager Bob McNamara; Rob Snitzer, medical therapist; Tim Gortsema, vice president of finance and administration; Lourie (Boike) Hurley, director of ticket operations; and Lisa Vedder, accounting manager.

**Anyone even remotely acquainted with Bob Israels knows the man doesn’t sit still for long. Nor does he rest on his laurels.

That’s why it should be no surprise that the renovation on the southern portion of a former John Widdicomb furniture factory building will begin next month. Israels, owner of Israels Designs for Living, owns the 120,000-square-foot building located near Fifth Street and Seward Avenue on the city’s West Side.

Erhardt Construction will direct the renovation.

“The vision of Bob Israels to develop this historic building in a Renaissance Zone is exciting,” said Dale Bramer, a senior vice president for Erhardt. “I see it as an amazing opportunity for a business to be located in a unique area of our city that has much to offer with its proximity and access to the downtown area.”

Israels restored the north building in 2004 and it now houses the company’s trade center, a designer showroom for high-end furniture, fabrics, flooring and wall coverings. Erhardt directed that project and will follow a similar design for the southern portion.

Construction is expected to finish in the summer of 2008.    

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