Drawing boards get plenty of use here

January 4, 2009
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Slow news week? Some might wonder that while reading the headline of  a story that prods successful downtown real estate developers to speculate regarding the chances 2009 will have any hope of financial optimism. How can we expect them to predict gains amid frozen credit markets and the subsequent global turmoil? Call it intuition. Call it West Michigan.

As we suspected, reading just a tad between the lines of their responses on page 14, it's not too difficult to understand why they are among the success stories of the past decade. It also confirms once again why they and others hold hopes of seeing more of the same in the not-to-distant future.

We note that:

  • Rockford Companies CEO John Wheeler points to the continued growth of the college facility market.

  • Third Coast Development Partners Principal Dave Levitt correctly sees inevitable increases the public transportation system expenditures.

  • Blue Ridge Ventures CEO Jack Buchanan anticipates the likely success of mixed-use projects.

  • Andy Winkel, Locus Development partner, chimes in regarding continued Heartside district vibrancy.

And those are just a few elements of their generally upbeat forecasts.

As do all business operators, those contacted remain concerned about the impact of the credit crunch and other economic dampeners on their efforts. They, too, wonder about the  ability to start, grow and market future projects, but the ray of optimism that permeates not only their outlook, but those of several other business operators dotting the pages of this week's publication, certainly is worth noting. This comes while national prognosticators predict more market gloom and doom heading into the new year.

A Page 1 story that outlines the expectations of Stifel Nicolaus analysts, as well as a local bank president, effectively documents the very likely financial predicament that we will find ourselves in for the duration of the coming months: "From an economic perspective, I'm afraid 2009 is going to be 'find the bottom and build from there,' " notes Garth Deur, president and CEO of Bank of Holland.

Deur believes the populace's general lack of confidence in the economy will continue to contribute to the ongoing angst, but he is hopeful federal bailout schemes will play a positive role in stabilizing markets and business conditions.

Meanwhile, the wheels of commerce have not come to a complete stop in West Michigan. Far from it.

The pages of this issue document several projects coming on line or soon to debut  as contenders for business success:

  • Hyatt Place hotel opens its doors at the burgeoning Metro Village in Wyoming.

  • Resourceful restaurant entrepreneur Jeff Lobdell adds to his company's stable of food establishments in West Michigan.

  • The aforementioned Buchanan pursues plans to create a new type of office space in the Monroe North Business District.

  • Muskegon Brewing & Distilling Co. operators Steve Buszka and Jennifer Clark buck long odds in an effort to open their business in Muskegon.

  • Gregory Gilmore pursues plans to expand the popular Big Old Building in downtown Grand Rapids.

  • Hopcat, a popular bar at 25 Ionia Ave., celebrates one year of successful operation and looks ahead to more.

  • The Grand Rapids office of Plante & Moran moves into its new building along the downtown's riverfront.

  • Spartan Stores Inc., the 10th largest grocery distributor in the country, completes the acquisition of VG's Food Center and VG's Pharmacy Inc., Spartan's largest independent distribution customer.

Next week, the Business Journal will announce its nominees for Newsmaker of the Year, featuring headliners who rose to the top of the page in 2008. Not all of their noteworthiness will go down on the positive side of ledger. But dozens of examples exist in which a checkmark can be placed on the hopeful side of commerce.

And that's worth welcoming in an even better new year.

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