Moving Up Along The Rail

January 14, 2008
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It’s a slam dunk non-story with non-development consequences written all over it, correct? Well, Peter Secchia again makes his “nothin’ for nothin’ leaves nothin’” case in a story on Page B2 swearing he has no new plans for property he gobbled up in some prime territory downtown.

Yes, but …

“There is nothing going on,” he maintains. “There is an expressway between the properties, and it would be difficult to do a development with an expressway in the middle of it. There is no game plan.”

Yes, but …

Wouldn’t the ideal “game plan” be one that recognizes the potential of the recently purchased Market Avenue properties near the expressway as an ideal drop-off point and downtown access spot for the planned light-rail line, likely to be in Grand Rapids’ future?

“… There is nothing going on.”

Yes, but …

Isn’t the ambassador among those likely to be impressed by transit developments such as those found by locals on a visit to Portland — a visit that left many drooling about the light-rail possibilities in and around Grand Rapids?

Just maybe there is more to the story than simply purchasing empty buildings and “taking the pigeon poop out.”

Stay tuned …

**Talk of a downtown Grand Rapids casino remains behind closed doors, and it appears for now such an entertainment venue will not be part of the latest DeVos family project in the Bahamas. The new $85 million Cape Eleuthera Resort & Yacht Club is a mix of real estate opportunities and an upscale resort and yacht club.

A spokesperson indicated the facility “is intimate, upscale and exclusive, having only 17 resort townhomes. The premier Cape Eleuthera Resort & Yacht Club and real estate project is located on an ideal setting for fishing, boating and relaxing on secluded beaches.”

But, upon inquiry, the spokesperson indicated, “As far as we know, the casino development is just a rumor. This was an idea discussed years ago but has not been brought up since. If we hear of anything different, we will surely let you know.”

Richard DeVos, a Top Newsmaker nominee for his leadership in the JW Marriott location downtown (to be recognized with other top Business Journal Newsmakers in today’s Economic Club luncheon), will not attend the affair as he’s busy christening the new resort, sans casino — at this time. Word is that his sons were/are more interested in the casino piece.

**Ron Cooper, the feisty supervisor of Fruitport Township and diehard supporter of a revival of horseracing at defunct Great Lakes Downs (see story on page 1), has major ongoing legal issues with state racing overseers, but still maintains horseracing can be "very profitable" at GLD.

"It hasn't been, and I think I know the reasons why," he said.

One reason, he said, was that it wasn't managed correctly by Magna Entertainment, a large corporation that owns a number of tracks, most of them much larger than GLD.

"There's a bigger reason why this track didn't make it," said Cooper.

"Horses were held back," he said.

"When a person spends two hours handicapping the races and then stupid stuff happens — a horse that should be in first place ends up in fifth place instead of second or third … I've had (handicappers) talk to me about it. They get tired of it. They say, 'Well, I'll go to the casino. The odds aren't as good but at least I know what they are,'" said Cooper.

"It has mostly to do with jockeys getting paid a little more to lose a race than they would if they won a race."

"I'm not saying a lot of it happened, but it happened just enough," said Cooper.

Gary Tinkle is executive director of the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Association, which represents Michigan's thoroughbred racing trainers and owners. Tinkle had an office at GLD and was there almost every day "since May 5, 1999," when the track opened for thoroughbred racing.

As for Cooper's opinion that some races were not "right," Tinkle took strong issue with the allegation, saying he does not agree with it "at all."

It should be noted that Cooper has been fighting the Michigan Office of Racing Commissioner since 1999, when he first became township supervisor. He maintains the township did not get its fair portion of simulcast bets at GLD, as stipulated in state law. The commissioner held a hearing and ruled against the township's claim, so the township — led by Cooper — sued and recently lost its case in court. Fruitport has spent more than $95,000 on legal fees in the last three years and some Fruitport township officials want to drop the matter, but Cooper said last week the township will appeal.

Cooper said malfeasance previously took place at the Detroit Race Course, which was the state's only thoroughbred track until it closed in 1998. He said it happened at GLD when it was a harness racing track, too, when it first opened.

Cooper alleged that the state Office of Racing Commissioner "let people get away with things they should not get away with."

Liana Bennett, a spokesperson for State Racing Commissioner Christine C. White, said that office has stewards and an investigative team at every track that "monitor each race … the horses themselves, as well as the participants, all of our licensees." They also have an anonymous hotline the public can call regarding "any issue to do with the integrity of racing."

"If there are any questionable races or activities, those are all investigated … and then, if necessary, actions are taken," she said.

"Our office did not receive an unusual quantity of complaints about Great Lakes Downs," she said. "I'm sure we did get some complaints … but it was nothing out of the ordinary."

**Knoll Gas Motorsports, located in Decatur, has pulled its drag-racing team sponsorships for 2008, citing changes being made in the successful racing fuel company. Company leader Evan Knoll, honored last year as a regional finalist in the Business Journal media-sponsored Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year event in Grand Rapids and Chicago, is battling some health problems that have played a role in the company’s decision to park its racing sponsorships for the time being.

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