RACER wins in Wyoming

June 25, 2011
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Bruce Rasher, the key figure in completing the sale of the former GM stamping plant in Wyoming to the city’s Brownfield Authority, said a closing can now take place, ending a legal process that began almost six months ago.

“We have, in fact, achieved agreement on all of the language for the purchase-and-sale agreement, and I expect that transaction will close before the end of this month,” Rasher said last week.

The city of Wyoming has been champing at the bit to get the huge, empty factory pulled down and the 92 acres redeveloped for — hopefully — “advanced manufacturing” and the good jobs that would entail. For about three generations, the GM plant was the city’s largest property taxpayer and provided good jobs to thousands.

In January, Wyoming reached a deal with Motors Liquidation Co., or MLC (legally representing the “old” GM in bankruptcy court) in which the city would acquire the property, which would then be redeveloped under a partnership the city has with Lormax Stern Development Co. of West Bloomfield.

On March 31, however, the court handling the massive GM bankruptcy established the RACER Trust to hold title to all the former GM properties — 89 parcels in 14 states — and put Rasher in charge. About 60 of the former GM sites are environmentally contaminated, so RACER was given the dual responsibility of managing the sale, lease and redevelopment of the properties, and seeing that the environmental cleanup is done. The Trust was also given a lot of money to make it happen.

RACER, which stands for Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response, is now the third-largest owner of industrial property in the United States, and the largest environmental trust in U.S. history.

Things dragged on since March 31, however, while RACER and the city hammered out a sale agreement that ensured RACER would have access to the property even after the sale to meet its obligation to ensure that the contamination is eventually cleaned up.

Rasher said that once RACER gets a “no further action” letter from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regarding the Wyoming GM site, it will be done and its right of access terminated.

Coincidentally, last week the Business Journal also received an announcement from RACER, announcing that Rasher had been named redevelopment manager of the trust. But didn’t we already know that months ago?

“We’re just a little bit behind in announcing some of the key positions,” explained Rasher.

Rasher previously managed CB Richard Ellis’ North American manufacturing and brownfields specialty practice groups, based in Detroit. He also served two terms as mayor of Marshall from 1995-98.

Knapp’s Corner synergies

“It’s getting a little crazy out there, with grocery stores” at Knapp’s Corner, joked Grand Rapids City Planner Suzanne Schulz.

She was referring to the construction of a new Aldi store now underway there. It is right across Knapp Street from a Meijer supercenter and across East Beltline from a D&W Fresh Market.

“I guess it’s those synergies — kind of like fast food chains or banks. They tend to multiply,” she said.

Hockey world transitions

Every now and then, an individual comes along who can’t really be replaced when he or she leaves. That was the situation last week when Grand Rapids Griffins GM Bob McNamara resigned to look for new opportunities in the hockey world. Mac is the only GM the franchise has had and was named the IHL’s GM of the Year in his first season. The Griffs won 57 percent of its regular season games, five division titles and two regular season championships during his 15-year tenure as the team’s top hockey guy. The club also made it to the Turner Cup finals in 2000.

“It’s been a great run over the last 15 years, beyond what I could have imagined when I came to Grand Rapids,” Mac said last week. “But as difficult as it is to leave this organization, it’s time for me to look for a new challenge.”

“We are extremely appreciative of everything Bob has done for our franchise dating back to our inaugural season in 1996-97. He has been one of the key people involved in helping create and sustain our franchise’s reputation for excellence,” said Dan DeVos, Griffins president and CEO. “Bob not only has been a valued colleague, but also a great friend. We wish nothing but the best for Bob and his family in whatever the future holds next for them,” said David Van Andel, chairman of the franchise.

The Griffins have decided not to replace McNamara. Instead, some of his daily duties will be assigned to others in the front office, and the Detroit Red Wings will assume the primary operational functions — the current model most AHL teams are using. “Our affiliation with Detroit has evolved to the point where the Red Wings supply nearly all of our players. Over time, they’ve taken on greater responsibilities and a larger and more active role in our hockey operations, so we’re confident it will be a seamless transition to this new model,” said DeVos.

Morgan hung up

Kent County has a tradition of hanging its former commission chairpersons in the board’s chambers — classy portraits of them, that is, in sort of a hall-of-fame style to remind all of the fine leadership the county has had.

Last week, Commissioner Roger Morgan went up on the chamber’s walls, joining other notables such as Pat Malone, Steve Heacock, Marge Byington and Vern Ehlers. Morgan served four years as commission chair and is highly respected by his fellow board members.

As someone who likes to restore antique cars, he is pictured standing next to one of his favorite things: a 1955 Studebaker pickup. “They made 3,500 of those. So there are two relics in that picture,” he said.

While they may have made 3,500 pickups, there is only one Roger Morgan. Current Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish said Morgan established benchmarks during his tenure, especially for the court system, which will live on.

A gift for Olivia and friends

Dan Henrickson is known around business circles as a developer and builder. But he also is the founder and president of Olivia’s Gift, a nonprofit charitable organization. Henrickson is also Olivia’s father. Olivia is 21 years old. She suffered a brain injury from a near-drowning accident that almost took her life as a young girl. Henrickson explained that young adults like Olivia are often given only two choices for living arrangements: a group home-setting or remaining at home with parents. He said both options are good, but neither is the best.

So, Olivia’s Gift is getting ready to build six apartments, a large common area where the residents can gather and a sensory room. The rent will be HUD-controlled and affordable. County commissioners allocated $822,822 in federal funds for the project. Henrickson said the land is under contract: “We’re ready to go.”

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