Stepping up, falling flat We aw it all in turbulent 09

January 4, 2010
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We couldn’t allow the passage of another year and the debut of a new decade without reviewing our list of Saints and Sinners of 2009 — a momentous and interesting year in so many ways, bringing cheers and regrets all around. Following is a sample of this year’s “nominees.”
The Saints among us:
ArtPrize. While there may be other uses for a $400,000 donation during the Great Recession, nothing like ArtPrize has ever hit Michigan before, an innovative approach that highlights creativity, two sorely needed qualities in the 21st century economy.

All the workers cut loose from companies across West Michigan who are trying to stitch their lives back together. This includes those involved in the closing of the GM stamping plant on 36th Street in Wyoming, a loss of more than 1,500 good-paying jobs. The move forced the city of Wyoming — long dependent on the plant that primarily supplied now oversized, non-selling GM vehicles — to reduce government services, due to the loss of its largest taxpayer.

Progress on The Gallery on Fulton, whose developers recently held a “Topping Out” ceremony to celebrate the completion of the building’s structure. The Gallery — a 12-story, $34 million, 209,000-square-foot, mixed-use development — will offer commercial and residential space, including the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts as anchor tenant.

The Van Andel Institute, which opened a major addition last month that lends much sparkle to the economic promise of the confluence of academics, research and health care in Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile.

Ralph Hauenstein, whose $2 million donation sparked the construction of Saint Mary’s Health Care’s $60 million Hauenstein Center to house brand-new emergency and critical care sections as well as neurological services that share connections to ongoing work at the Van Andel Research Institute.

Grand Rapids Community College, for spending $14.5 million to buy the downtown Davenport University campus, thus saving money on its own space needs and preventing a vacant eyesore from developing in Heritage Hill.

Tim Gortsema and the rest of the front office staff at the Grand Rapids Griffins for treating thousands of the area’s unemployed to some pretty good hockey games. A few hours of distraction from financial worries is good for the soul, and the franchise showed it had a lot of soul by making the offer.

The Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians for not giving up their dream of building a casino in Wayland Township. Construction began in September after almost 10 years of expensive legal opposition — some of it apparently funded by an Indiana casino.

Heat Transfer International of Kentwood, for designing and installing an innovative biomass energy plant at a feed mill in Howard City that may be the first of its kind in the world and is expected to dramatically increase the feed mill owner's energy independence.

Baker College of Muskegon for building its new $11 million Culinary Institute of Michigan, which opened in downtown Muskegon in September. It adds a great deal of activity and economic vitality to the downtown area. The college began culinary classes in Muskegon in 1997 with 40 students, and now has a record number enrolled at the new CIM: more than 300.

The fertile soil of West Michigan and the hard-working people who farm it, making agriculture in this part of the state worth an estimated $1.6 billion-plus.

A parade of Sinners:
Cabela's, the recession and the developers of the proposed 300-acre Orchard Park mall in Walker, which is languishing now into its third year. The developers promised city officials a Cabela's store to anchor the project, but the retailer has yet to confirm plans to build there.

The state Legislature and Congress, for failure to product health care/health insurance reform that is actually good public policy.

A real-life example of how and why health care costs have escalated: Holland Community Hospital’s building of a $10.5 million, 30,000-square-foot medical office facility in the backyard of Zeeland Community Hospital’s still-new operation.

The Michigan legislature and governor for their inability once again to fix the previous year’s ill-fated 11th-hour attempt to dump the long-reviled Single Business Tax in favor of the even more despised Michigan Business Tax. All followed by yet another unwarranted meltdown at budget approval time in 2009.

Banks — and not just for tightening the lending screws. Ask any depositor who has an interest-paying checking account, money market account or certificate of deposit. Let’s face it, paying a customer 14 cents in interest over a 12-month period for a checking account that had an average balance of more than $1,800 borders on criminal. Especially after giving so much of it away because they had so much of it. This is part of the formula for the continued fallout of the largest collapse of the U.S. financial markets and banking system in history. All of the turmoil led to a widespread foreclosure crisis and a freeze on the credit markets.

First Ward voters who didn’t support James Jendrasiak for another term on the GR City Commission. They kicked out possibly the most aggravating commissioner on that panel, but also the one most dedicated to their interests and to keeping city spending in order.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, who told media types in October that he wouldn’t spend any of the 2011 stimulus dollars on the state’s 2010 budget because he felt Michigan would need that money next October. Well, yeah. But his comment also reveals that he had no interest then in making any changes between last October and next October.

A soulless Peter Hoekstra. The outgoing and opportunistic U.S. Congressman turned a Christmas Day near-tragedy in the skies over Detroit into an occasion to increase his election coffer in his run for governor. In a fundraising letter, Hoekstra asked for donations three times, even in a postscript.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state legislators for being “unprepared” to handle laid-off Michigan workers filing for unemployment benefits. The state “system” melted down under the weight of unemployment claims — despite the fact that more than 200,000 business owners “contribute” annually to the state unemployment insurance fund to help administer it.

Varnum, legal counsel for Bridgewater Condos, which wrote the purchase agreement that left off the address of the escrow, helping allow 15 potential condo buyers in River House get out of their deals unscathed. Pending appeal, the legal decision could cost the company owned by Robert Grooters up to $7 million in sales revenue and deposit refunds — not exactly the news one wants to hear in this turbulent real estate economy.

Organizers of the B-96 Birthday Bash that saw hundreds of concertgoer vehicles parked on the back 40 swamped, and in most cases destroyed, by Grand River flood waters.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who mishandled $750,000 he handed out in March via a settlement from Countryside Financial Corp. Cox won a $130 million settlement from the mortgage firm blamed for much of the state’s foreclosure crisis. Local civic leaders questioned whether Cox should have earmarked $250,000 each in settlment money for the city-owned Crescent Park and Kent County’s Millennium Park instead of allocating more than the pledged $250,000 to much-needed local foreclosure relief efforts.

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