Jolly Memories, Serious Doubts

January 21, 2008
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They make ’em like this in Canada, but that’s not the reason Jolly Rogers Ice Club is so near and dear to a few generations of hockey players — or summer swimmers. Developer Tom Reges and his wife, Midge, first opened the rink in 1972, and the Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association took to the ice.

Reges, now 82, is anything but retiring, though that’s what his doctor told him to do several years ago, and continuing ownership of the rink was a central discussion. New sheets of ice have been financed in almost every suburban community over the past dozen years.

Reges told the Business Journal last week he was approached by the Rich DeVos family business, RDV Corp., to sell the Jolly last year, after Rich DeVos attended a football game in the nearby field of Grand Rapids Christian High School, and opined that the property should be given to the school.

While attorneys at Varnum Riddering Schmidt and Howlett negotiated with the RDV attorneys at Warner Norcross last fall, Reges sat back and waited for the smoke to clear, as is typical of the businessman. (His financial innovation has been coupled with practicality, and his thoughtful involvement with city planners, parking commissions, developers, bankers, school superintendents and mayors is part of city legend dating back to 1956.)

Reges said he occasionally received a call from his attorney — “the only signal I had that something was still up” — but on Jan. 3, the deal was signed between T.S. Reges Corp. and MVP Sports Clubs owned by RDV. Reges said he created a new business name to allow MVP to continue to use the Jolly Roger name.

He and Midge were preparing to leave on an annual trek to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but “the Boss” insisted they stop at the doctor’s office first. Reges was admitted to Blodgett Hospital where he is undergoing tests involving a tumor.

He has no complaints about the “service” therein — in fact he’s generously complimentary — but as soon as they discharge him, he said he’s moving his office “for the first time in 35 years.” He’s likely to stay close enough to watch high school and GRAHA hockey, and the summer swimmers, should MVP continue the programs for a community adamant about the legend … and the memories.

**Jim Bossenbroek has been working for nearly three years to put together Orchard Park, his 300-acre retail-business-and-residential development in Walker (see page 6). (No one dares call it a "mall.") The crucial element will be a Cabela's sporting goods store as the centerpiece, said to be a magnet for much other business. The project is starting to pick up momentum as it enters the crucial stage of getting the final, official go-ahead from Walker city officials to seal the deals and start the engines on the bulldozers.

Throughout the nation, Cabela's "superstores" are proclaimed a "retail destination," a form of consumer tourism that draws a lot of travelers and their money into a community lucky enough to land one. If you build it, they will come — other retailers, and hotels, restaurants, water parks, etc.

Meanwhile, the Michigan economy is said to be going downhill like a greased glacier.

Frank Wash of the Walker planning department says the biggest Orchard Park issue, in the end, may be "the economic climate of the state."

"If it's healthy, the developers will have an easier time attracting (tenants or buyers) to the site," he said.

If they don't … Well, the millions of dollars required to build the infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, sewer and water mains, utilities — is supposed to come from government-backed tax increment financing, which relies on future increases in property taxes on real estate in Orchard Park.

Attorney Zachary J. Bossenbroek, who has been representing the Orchard Park developers in their negotiations with the city of Walker, said the Michigan economy "really hasn't" affected the group’s development plans. Except, of course, for its announcement last summer that the residential development in Orchard Park would be put off for Phase Two, which is somewhere down the road.

Residential units were a key element in the Walker city fathers' original hopes and aspirations for Orchard Park, so that it wouldn't be "another Alpine Avenue" of snarled traffic, or just another huge mall with acres of concrete surrounding "big boxes."

"I think the reason for that change in phasing is likely attributable to the economic climate we're in," said Zachary Bossenbroek, "because Phase Two includes a pretty significant residential component, and in this residential market, which may be among the worst West Michigan has ever seen, building those residential units would be suicide."

*Emotions are running high in Lansing over, of all things, insurance regulations. What might be considered the world’s driest topic has pitted Republican against Republican, local chambers of commerce against the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and sent the e-mail accounts of PR people/lobbyists into overdrive.

What’s all the fuss? A four-bill package, backed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, now awaiting committee hearings in the state Senate (see page 8).

Aside from the details of the proposals, sources tell the Business Journal that the insurance carriers that compete for the little market share that is left feel bullied by the market-share giant Blues, which appears to have tried to pull an end-run with quick House approval while most people were distracted by the Michigan Business Tax and the state budget. They fear that if the legislation stands — and an alternative is reportedly in the works — BCBSM could end up with a near monopoly. Thus the flurry of press releases, strange bedfellows and overheated rhetoric.

**Time must really fly if you’re chairman of the city’s Parking Commission. Local attorney Jack Hoffman’s eight-year term on the board expired earlier this month, and members held a “retirement” event that included an unannounced visit from former three-term GRMAYOR John Logie, a close friend of Hoffman.

When Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema told Hoffman that he had been on the commission for eight years — the legal limit — Hoffman said, “So I’ve been here more than six years?” Yes, Jack, you were chairman for six years.

As a going-away gift, commissioners gave Hoffman an inscribed, commemorative desk clock. We’re not sure if it has a “year” hand.

**Parking Commissioners then unanimously selected Lisa Haynes as their new chairwoman, after Commissioner David Leonard eloquently nominated her for the post. Haynes, who directs operations for the GVSU downtown campus, very well may be the first woman to head the commission. But having a female at the helm isn’t anything new for the city.

Ritsema was the first woman to lead Parking Services. Kayem Dunn was recently re-elected to chair the Downtown Development Authority. Kara Wood is the city’s second female to hold down the economic development director’s job, after Susan Shannon left for Seattle last year. Suzanne Schulz is the city’s planning director. Terry Hegarty has directed the clerk’s office for years and will do so for about another month. There are probably other names we could drop, but our little black book is missing.

**Steve Miller, who directed sales for SMG and worked with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to draw groups here, resigned recently to manage an SMG-run building in Toledo (see page 13). In addition to his sales work, Miller was an amateur baseball and softball umpire who sometimes subbed at West Michigan Whitecaps games. Lew Chamberlin, managing partner and CEO of the Single-A franchise affiliated with the Detroit Tigers, said the city was losing “a hell of an umpire.”

But Chamberlin also noted that Toledo is home to the Tigers’ Triple A franchise, the Mud Hens, so he said the move probably means Miller is working his way to the Major League. Maybe Miller will be honored someday by having Chicago Cubs manager Lou Pinnella kick dirt on his pant legs.

**As one of the 20 “Best Green Companies for America’s Children,” Herman Miller Inc. was named the top “eco-design innovator” in the November issue of Working Mother magazine. Stating HMI is “the largest user of renewable energy in the design industry,” the magazine indicates that “people who step into Herman Miller’s 15,172-square-foot Atlanta Design Center are amazed by its natural beauty … it shines as an example of what can happen when creative ingenuity meets eco-consciousness. But then, this company helped write the rules on green design. No wonder the company is often called one of America’s most admired.”

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