Arbitrary decisions will impede Grand Rapids progress

April 20, 2009
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The dangers of government ego have a long world history, and none of the stories end happily. The regional business community has railed at state or federal government attempts to pick winners and choose losers from the private sector, and rightfully so. Free markets are no longer free when government intercedes. The horror deepens when public officials begin to believe they are also the gods of private business plans.

The Grand Rapids City Commission certainly appears to be on that path once again, perhaps emboldened by the perception that Grand Rapids fares better in this recession than other Michigan cities, which certainly aggrandizes the ego but at the expense of their oaths of office.

Once again developer Jack Buchanan is before the commission this week, agreeing to changes in a development the city wanted and legally signed for, and then for “reasons” proven by city and county records to be complete falsehoods, reversed its stated approval and severely limited the developer’s time frame. That story was published in the April 6 issue of Grand Rapids Business Journal, and is updated this week on page 4.

This is not intended as an endorsement of the Ionia Street Imperial Metals site development but a wake-up call to commissioners as to the destructive path they weave (and who are poor actors in covering up the certain seeds of backroom politics).

If one tried to be logical in assessing the reasoning for the falsehoods promulgated in a public meeting (for which the city, by its own hand, has stringent penalties), one would have to compare the deal with that of developer Sam Cummings who is trying to get the Gallery on Fulton built. Briefly, Cummings pledged to buy the entire site for $2 million, beating four other bids. He then bought half the property, for $1 million; the Downtown Development Authority bought land from parking services on his behalf and gave Cummings five years to begin paying principal and interest. Then the city Parking Services Department began building a parking ramp at the back of the project, eliminating Cummings’ need to invest in parking, an investment “loser” for developers.

The city required Buchanan to have the property appraised twice and is now balking at paying the appraised value.

In using this and other comparisons, it would certainly appear the commissioners are cherry-picking among plans, or worse, are the jelly-spine peons of powerful but unelected city investors.

The signal sent from city hall has ripples throughout the country as record and reputation clearly demonstrate an arbitrary process in a mid-size city and slams the door on potential development. Would the city also have ignored the deal from Priceline.com now giving the city of Wyoming hundreds of new jobs? Or so maligned attempts for the development as to make it easier to go elsewhere?

Commercial real estate professionals are finding success in the suburbs. Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce last year was cited with a statewide award for its sale of a 17-building portfolio that introduced investors from the West Coast to this city, though the deal was in Kentwood.

Government has no record of the “vision” to pick winners. That belongs to a free market.

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