Dealer Or No Deal

March 5, 2007
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With the fabled River Grand mystery development kaput last week, front man Duane Faust and Tom Dowling, the project’s locally based architect, were as scarce as paczki on St. Patrick’s Day.

Judging by David Czurak’s page 3 story, “Mystery Solved,” Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong and his staff are probably a bit relieved. With all three proposals weeded away, the painstaking task of moving the Public Works Island to a more sensible location can wait for another era. Likewise, the city avoids promoting the downtown shakeup that 16 acres’ worth of competing redevelopment — essentially a second Cherry Street Landing — would have brought.

According to Kurt Hassberger, president of Rockford Construction, the company responsible for Cherry Street Landing, there is an underlying question concerning the evolution of the downtown market, particularly with major developments that hope to change the face of downtown Grand Rapids.

“Do we want downtown to compete with Woodland Mall and 28th Street? I’m not sure we do,” Hassberger said. “Are we looking for a retail environment to serve downtown workers and residents? Or are we trying to get national retailers down there? And if we do, what happens to the people who have stuck it out downtown and have been successful?

“I might catch some flack for saying this, but is our goal really to bring in competition?”

Interior design consultant Kayem Dunn, formerly executive director of the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research and currently chair of the Downtown Development Authority, was blunt.

“If I wanted to go to the Gap, and I emphasize if, I would go to the mall,” she said. “Malls and downtowns are completely different things, completely different experiences. So, no, I don’t think we should be trying to (compete with downtown).”

Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, agreed.

“We already have that in the area,” she said. “I don’t think we want to go head-to-head with the malls, and besides that, I think we have to realize that we’re probably never going to have a retail experience downtown like what you see in other locations.”

In Hassberger’s words, downtown Grand Rapids is not likely to become a place “where people are willing to spend $39 to park so they can go shopping.”

“Whether attracting it is realistic or not, it’s something you don’t want in a traditional downtown, where the strengths are locally owned businesses,” added Evoy. “Not chains you can get in any city in the country.”

As a counterpoint, a Grand Rapids advertising sales rep and Holland City Council member wrote on the Urban Planet Web forum, “I can tell you that the mix is important. In addition to all the local shops (in Holland), we not only have a Ben & Jerry’s and Talbots, but also a Coldstone Creamery, Quiznos, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s, Jos. A. Banks and many regional treasures such as the Outpost, Kilwin’s and others.

“We’ve heard rumors of a new downtown Starbucks, but the strength of JP’s, Lemonjello’s and Good Earth coffee shops have so far allowed them to prevail.”

Long story short: Downtown Grand Rapids still doesn’t have a Gap, an Apple Store or a movie theater, whether it wants one or not.

**Back before anyone realized the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, one of the most persistent mystery development rumors was that of a Grand Rapids Googleplex — which turned out to be partially true, as the blockbuster technology group had apparently scouted the same site Kmart had once been interested in.

While the Ann Arbor Google presence, its AdWords sales office, is going great guns, the company’s other recent investment, a $600 million computer center in North Carolina, sounds like a bust. The Charlotte Observer last week questioned why Caldwell County officials didn’t do an economic impact study before coughing up nearly $200 million in incentives for “a big air-conditioned warehouse to hold computers.”

**On the Gun Lake Casino court ruling referenced in the page 1 story, “The Casino Next Door,” Todd Boorsma, president of Michigan Gambling Opposition, the Allegan County-based group that brought the suit, said, “I’m not surprised and I’m not impressed. They’re rubber stamping these all across the country. … But it’s not like we’re just going to give up.”

In response to suggestions that the state’s other tribal casinos haven’t caused many problems for their communities, Boorsma did make a point worth mentioning: No other Michigan tribal casino operates within a large metropolitan area, and although it’s in a rural county, Wayland is part of the larger West Michigan community.

“It’s not like we’re talking about some reservation in the middle of the country,” he said. “This is farmland in the middle of three metro areas. … No one has mentioned that.”

Now someone has.

As a counterpoint, Eric Bush, administrative manager and head of the Michigan Gaming Control Board’s Indian Gaming section, last week put down his “rubber stamp” long enough to voice his support for Gun Lake.

“Michigan’s experience with tribal casinos has been very positive,” he said in a prepared statement. “There exists an atmosphere of respect and cooperation.”

**Corporate etiquette and international protocol training group Sterling Protocol is hosting a series of executive manners courses this month at the University Club. This Friday, “Corporate Etiquette in a Relaxed World” will address the standards associated with an increasingly casual and mobile-technology centered workplace. Next week is “Mastering Executive Dining Skills,” with “American Business Manners for Foreign Nationals” on the 23rd. Cost for the seminars is $185, $245 and $325, respectively, with group discounts available.

For more information, call 245-8840.

**Grand Rapids City Commissioner Elias Lumpkins might be a political novice, but he sure knows how to run a campaign. Lumpkins, appointed by the City Commission last year to replace now-State Representative Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, last week told the Grand Valley Metro Council that he would seek election, then immediately asked for a favor.

“Right now, I have no opposition,” said a blue-jeans wearing Lumpkins. “So if you could keep people from running, I’d appreciate it.”    

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