WiMax awaits GR jumpstart as affiliate deal takes shape

October 26, 2009
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Here’s a tidy way to stop messy litigation: Buy whoever is suing you. That’s what Sprint Nextel said it was going to do last week when it offered to purchase its wireless affiliate iPCS for $830 million — a per-share price that is 34 percent higher than what the plaintiff’s stock was going for on the Big Board.

The deal is expected to close late this year or early next year. That should bring an end to a lawsuit that has put the city’s WiMax project with Clearwire on hold due to all the legal strings that were attached to the wireless industry.

“We take the Sprint agreement to buy iPCS to be very good news for Clearwire, and for Grand Rapids and the region. This deal will free up Clearwire to begin selling high-speed, 4-G wireless Internet here,” said Sally Wesorick, the city’s wireless project manager.

“We do not have a launch date yet,” she added.

Last May, Sprint lost a legal bid to dismiss an IPDS lawsuit that wanted to stop its network build-out with Clearwire.

A corner being turned?

A hatchet may have been buried last week when the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority gave an update to Kent County commissioners. Leaders from both groups met in closed sessions twice, leading to last week’s update.

At issue was primarily the DDA’s use of captured property-tax dollars, which costs the county roughly $1 million a year. DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler gave a summary of what the board has helped accomplish over the past 15 years or so, and explained that the $500,000 the board recently allocated to the city’s police, fire and parks departments for services in the district came from non-tax dollars and was a one-timer.

“This will not be a long-term commitment,” said Fowler.

County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan seemed pleased with the outcomes of the two sessions and the update report. “I think the dialogue is there and the communication has improved,” he said.

DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn reminded commissioners that her group and the county have worked as partners since 1979, and the DDA board has always included a county representative. She noted the first one was Vern Ehlers, back when the congressman was elected to the commission.

“We believe there is some momentum downtown. We want to talk with the county and our other stakeholders,” said Dunn. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is some hope and things will get better.”

Making deals on a shoestring

But besides revenue, hope may be the other thing in increasingly shorter supply among county commissioners. The stress of continuous budget deficits and the apparent reality that they’ll have to let a lot of employees go seem to be fraying their edges — especially when they hear from workers marked for layoffs.

“When a man sits there with his daughter and is pleading for his job, we better make sure we spend money wisely,” said Commissioner Harold Voorhees.

One issue under consideration by the county commission is funding its farmland preservation program to the tune of $1 million over three years. Kent hasn’t used tax revenue to buy development rights yet, and the Finance Committee tabled a request last week to transfer the first $275,000 from the general fund to the preservation account for that purpose next year.

At Thursday’s board meeting, Commissioner Bill Hirsch accused “county leadership” of inserting a line into the transfer resolution that the preservation subcommittee didn’t write. The line Hirsch pointed out reads: “This funding request is based on the understanding that the county will seek a millage to sustain the program in future years.”

Hirsch didn’t name any “leadership” names, but he did say, “I won’t support a millage. I do not support a tax increase. I do not trust the leadership of this board on this issue.”

Then, after commissioners agreed to transfer $344,380 from the general fund to the lodging excise tax fund — which isn’t and hasn’t been meeting revenue needs for about six years — Commissioner Stan Ponstein suggested the transfer should be a loan and not a bailout to the lodging industry.

Look for the Convention and Visitors Bureau to be pressured to convince hotel and motel operators to raise their tax on a guest’s bill from 3 to 4 percent, which would generate about $1 million of new revenue.

The biggest expense the lodging fund has is a total of $5 million for two bonds worth $89 million that helped build DeVos Place. Only the county is on the line for those payments, which go up each year by about 3 percent.

Even though the commission approved the transfer, five commissioners voted against doing that. And that dissent made the tally the largest “no” vote against subsidizing the lodging account since the new convention center opened.

A matter of exposure

Cheryl Bell of Fairly Painless Advertising has one word of advice for the 63 college students participating in the Creative Smackdown this week: “naked.”

That’s naked as in don’t hide behind your shell. Put yourself and your work forward with energy and enthusiasm at the annual event.

Frank Blossom, who runs Frank Communications, said some 22 local advertising and design professionals will be on hand at the Smackdown to critique work and offer suggestions to students from six colleges. Entries will be in three categories: graphic design, Web design, and advertising — which encompasses everything that’s not graphic or Web design.

Each student will have 60 seconds to promote his or her entry in three rounds of critiques. At the end, the judges will award $300 for first place, $200 for second and $100 for third.

“One of the philosophies that I’ve always had for students interested in advertising and design: They need the learning and teaching they get at a college, but they need exposure to professionals to get a more open, honest appraisal of their work, and so they see themselves in a larger environment,” said Blossom, whose The Polishing Center helps students hone their all-important portfolios. “This is a way to bring them together and interact with professionals.”

Among the pros expected to be judges: Andy Filius, Full Circle Marketing & Design; Mark Bird, Bird Design; Rick Devon, Grey Matter Group; Rob Jackson and Patrick Duncan, Extra Credit Projects; Mark Stegeman, Stegeman Creative; Clayton Boothe, Boothe Creative; Gretchen DeVault, DeVault Quigley Design; Lesley Van Leeuwen-Vega, Good Work; Tom Crimp, Auxiliary Advertising; Cheryl Bell and Tim Hackney, Fairly Painless Advertising; Marty Lenger, Gordon Food Service; Jeff Hage, Green Frog Photo; Gregg Palazzolo, Palazzolo Design; Greg Reese, Reese Creative; Brian Hauch, People Design; Bill McKendry, Hanon-McKendry; Paul Ferrier, Mindscape Solutions; Roger Hunsberger and Eren Berry Smith, Hunsberger Stap; and Lee Gullet, iMart.

Creative Smackdown starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids. It is free and open to the public. Blossom said the pros gather around 6 p.m. for a little networking. Google “creative smackdown” to find more information all over the Web: Facebook, Twitter, etc. Peace out.

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