Gun Lake casino advocates see finish line coming closer

January 26, 2009
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ACG Cup competition targets next generation of leaders.

There were two celebrations going on in Wayland last week, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from MichGo (Michigan Gambling Opposition), which has been trying to block construction of the Gun Lake Tribe casino.

"There was a celebration amongst the tribe members, and we were celebrating over here, as well," said Denise Behm, executive director of the Wayland Area Chamber of Commerce.

"On behalf of the chamber, we are very optimistic that the end of the road is here and the casino will be able to move forward," she added.

Behm said the new casino would create jobs that are “badly needed in the area — not only with the casino, but the new businesses that would be brought to the area due to the casino."

Behm, who was recently named executive director at the chamber, said so far she has heard "nothing but positive" comments about the proposed casino from the Wayland Chamber members. About 180 businesses are members of the chamber.

Despite the optimism, the Gun Lake Tribe is not completely out of the woods yet. David Patchak of Wayland filed suit last summer, also attempting to block the casino. Word is that case will be resolved within days.

And then, of course, there is the recession.

When asked if the seriously ill economy will further delay construction, James Nye of the Gun Lake Tribe said "No. We've weathered this storm from the litigation for so many years, we're willing to face those challenges head on. We are willing to go forward as planned."

And, he noted, the foundation is already in the ground.

For their part, MichGo and its attorney, John Bursch of Warner Norcross & Judd, aren’t waving the white flag. “We are obviously disappointed that the Supreme Court did not agree to hear the constitutional and statutory problems associated with the government’s decision to take land in trust for the Gun Lake casino, in particular those identified by D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown in her dissenting opinion,” Bursch said, in a statement that indicated there are still obstacles before the casino can open, including the Michigan Legislature’s approval of an appropriate gaming contract, and the additional pending Patchak litigation.

Dealing for vehicles

Kent County is doing its part to stimulate the local economy, especially for some of the area’s auto dealers. Last week, the county’s Finance Committee made an “Oprah-like” move and approved the purchase of 14 shiny new vehicles for a total of $249,002.

Soon the county will be the proud owner of four Fusions, two Tauruses, two Rangers, one Focus, one Victoria, one F250 pick-up, one E-250 pick-up, one E-350 extended cargo van, and one Dodge mini-cargo van.

Nine dealers responded to the county’s call for bids and five made at least one sale. But Borgman Ford/Mazda and Ziegler Ford each sold four, proving that the county really likes Ford products or that those models are priced lower than competing models.

But it’s not surprising that the county redistributes the wealth. County Fiscal Services Director Robert White said last week that Kent County spends an average of $570,000 each and every day.

Wayland schools growing

Fourteen must be a stimulating number. First, the county buys 14 vehicles. And now Wayland Schools plans to develop 14 new facilities in the district and stimulate the economy to the tune of $40 million. Work is set to get started this spring and Triangle Associates Inc. will manage the projects.

Cup competition under way

One of the prominent themes addressed at the 2008 West Michigan Regional Policy Conference was keeping home grown talent — this area's next generation of leaders — in West Michigan. In response, the Association for Corporate Growth Western Michigan is announcing its inaugural ACG Cup, which is a masters-level deal analysis competition designed to give MBA and MS finance students real-world experience while networking with this region's top merger and acquisition professionals.

"ACG Cup represents an exciting opportunity to put the spotlight on West Michigan's next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs," said Christine Moag, president of ACGWM. "At the same time, it helps our community address a critical challenge in our region: talent retention. We want our homegrown, best and brightest to learn and work here."

Four of the area's best MBA programs will be taking part in the inaugural ACG Cup: Davenport University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and Western Michigan University. Teams from each school will analyze a complex business case (provided by ACGWM) and recommend strategies involving valuation, identifying capital markets, developing merger/acquisition strategic alternatives and financing options. Prominent members of the corporate community will apply their industry expertise as judges for the competition.

"To stay competitive in a global marketplace, we as a business community need to make it our priority to keep our next generation of leaders here in West Michigan," said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Inc. "I am encouraged to see an organization like Association for Corporate Growth take the lead on this initiative, providing these students with a platform to showcase their talents to future employers."

Schedule and format:

Round 1 (Jan. 14-31): ACGWM is distributing a case study to participating teams two weeks prior to the scheduled Round One competition. Teams will present their recommendations and respond to judges' questions for 30 minutes. After all teams present, the judges will choose one team from each school to advance to the finals.

Round 2 (Feb. 25): The finals will be held at Grand Valley State University's Loosemore Auditorium. The session is open to the public (contact ACGWM for tickets). During the finals, a new case study will be presented to four finalist teams (one from each university) who will present their recommendations and respond to judges' questions for 30 minutes. After all teams present, the judges will deliberate and the winners will be announced at the ACG Outstanding Growth Award reception held in March at DeVos Place. The winning team will receive $5,000.

To learn more about ACG Cup, visit www.acgwmich.org/acgcup or call ACGWM at (617) 732-7149.

Energy park idea pushed

Researchers at the MSU Land Policy Institute have an idea for use of old brownfield sites that lay vacant throughout Michigan: turn them into energy parks where wind and solar energy is converted into electrical energy.

Tomorrow morning they are going to provide the details of their findings at Avastar Park in Walker, a brownfield site that was once home to a big GM plant. It was all but abandoned for a few years but is now thriving with new investments and jobs.

Walker Mayor Rob VerHeulen will be there, along with Jack Buchanan, the developer of Avastar Park, and Soji Adelaja, director of the Land Policy Institute.

The MSU study quantifies the potential economic value of turning unwanted brownfields into energy parks, including the ripple effect in jobs and related investments.

"The timing is excellent because we are in the process of developing a sustainable energy ordinance — a wind energy ordinance — for the city," said VerHeulen.

"We're opening the door to allow wind energy generators in all zoning districts" in Walker, he added, including residential neighborhoods as well as commercial, industrial and agricultural property.

Walker City Planner Frank Wash said there are several brownfield-designated sites in the city, with tax advantages calculated to encourage investment. In addition to Avastar Park, others include industrial sites along U.S. 131, the former Fenske property along the Grand River in southwest Walker, and more than 200 acres on the northern side of the city now targeted for a retail development anchored (hopefully) by a Cabela's store. (It was once farmland and the soil is contaminated with residue from chemicals sprayed on the orchards.)

VerHeulen said Avastar Park "is my poster child for collaboration on all levels of government — a huge success story."

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