Peter Piper

January 22, 2007
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One wonders how former U.S. Ambassador to Italy and Universal Forest Products Chairman Emeritus Peter Secchia will remember last week. With cruel irony, the relentless organizer and fundraiser was injured in an automobile accident after attending a Michigan State University basketball game with the local daily's opinion editor on Sunday, then honored by the university Thursday as the namesake of its West Michigan medical school expansion.

SecchiaCenter will now join the likes of the Van Andel Institute, MeijerHeartTower and Helen DeVos Children's Hospital on Michigan Street Hill, the result of the 69-year-old Spartan's $20 million gift to the medical school coffers.

  • One of Secchia's contemporaries, former Chrysler chief and Dick DeVos for Governor pitch-man Lee Iacocca, is a primary investor in the purchase of Stockman's Casino in Nevada in partnership with Full House Resorts, the Las Vegas gaming corporation that will operate the Nottawaseppi Huron Band's FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek

He owns 12 percent of Full House and has been a director since 1998.

Coincidentally, the local daily's Chris Knape suggests the casino as a potential tenant to fill the recently closed Kellogg's Cereal City USA, a potential City Centre/Mackie's World-type albatross.

Battle Creek would fill a white elephant and get jobs — maybe even a share of the slot revenue," he wrote in his blog. "The casino would become a part of the community, adding badly needed traffic to downtown …. If it's going to be built anyway, why not put it in a location that might help solve a problem for the entire community?"

The Chicago suburb of Hammond, Ind., last year launched its own version of the nationally acclaimed Kalamazoo Promise. Some key differences: The $7,500 stipend can also be used for private college tuition, it is only available to homeowners (most single-family homes cost less than $90,000), and is funded entirely by casino revenues.

  • The restaurant Secchia launched in remembrance of his family's Old World cooking has fallen on hard times. Earlier this month, the PlainfieldTownship and Holland Pietro's Italian Restaurant locations served their last wood-fired pizza and family style meal.

Michael Passero, parent company River City Foods' executive vice president of marketing, cited economic factors for the closing, adding that the company will now focus on its

28th Street
roots.

"We've achieved a lot of recognition," he said. "All we're doing now is just reconsolidating and strengthening the original restaurant (at

2728 Birchcrest Drive SE
at
28th Street
)."

It's not all gloom and doom on

Northland Drive
; the Real Food Café opened a new location there in September to serve the many northeast and Rockford area residents that come to its AlgerHeights location on weekends.

"It's going a lot better now that the bridge is open," said Real Food Café owner Frank Amodeo of the Northland Drive construction that Passero dismissed as a contributing factor in the Pietro's closing. He said that business has been good, but is glad the restaurant did not open during the summer, when construction was at its peak.

  • Eastbrook Homes President Mick McGraw took the priciest seat in the house from last week's 13th Annual West Michigan Winter Baseball Banquet. McGraw shelled out $3,200 for a Detroit Tigers branded lounge chair signed by Brandon Inge, Jim Leyland, Justin Verlander and several other Tigers on hand for the banquet's charity auction.

A total of $43,000 was raised for the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Program.

  • As reported in the Business Journal's online edition last week, Hope College graduate and GM Grand Rapids alum Mark Rebhan dropped by his old stomping grounds for an Ad Club of West Michigan program at The BOB. The senior vice president of Leo Burnett Detroit, Rebhan shared some insights on the digital demographic the firm discovered during last year's launch of the Pontiac G5.

The launch centered on what Rebhan called the "fifth culture," a digital culture that evolved from the succession of nomadic, village, religious and economic cultures. Leo Burnett saw the G5 as an opportunity to introduce Pontiac to a group of consumers — ages 21 to 35 with a household income of roughly $40,000 — whose only exposure to the brand had been through outdated Detroit muscle cars, or not at all.

"This had to be bigger than just a car," said Rebhan. "This was a digital car for a digital life."

The G5 was positioned as a subscription to an experience. The monthly payment provided access to not only use of the car, but member-only events, accessories, music and entertainment. As a result, first-month sales exceeded goals by 185 percent.

A promotion launched this month seeks to further extend Pontiac into the digital culture through a first-of-its-kind partnership with the MySpace social networking portal. The "Friends With Benefits" program provides a cash-back fleet discount for MySpace group members.

"Rather than a community going to a dealer, we had this idea of really, really big communities going to Pontiac," said Rebhan. "We looked at these online groups and figured 50 friends — that's a fleet."

  • Quote of the week comes from the man of the hour. During an interview last year with former Business Journal reporter Kevin Murphy, Secchia said of late President Gerald R. Ford

"If you're from Grand Rapids, it's nice to have a president who maybe fell down the steps of an airplane or didn't talk well in a crowd, but didn't waver on policy or other issues. Whether you agreed with him or not, you can't dislike the man. Isn't that a nice thing to have? Guys like me would covet that kind of position. …

"The only guy he really has any bad feelings about in Grand Rapids is Bob Sullivan, who (formerly owned the Days Inn hotel across the street from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum) and made it very uncomfortable for the President to buy (the museum) property. Ford felt like he held him up, took advantage of him."    

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