Musical chairs on the downtown panels

December 19, 2011
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After 252 months of service — which sounds more impressive than 21 years, although 21 years is pretty impressive on its own — John Canepa is retiring from the GR Downtown Development Authority. The board recognized him last week for his “common sense, good judgment and strategic thinking.” DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn said there isn’t much that he hasn’t touched downtown, and she praised him for all the mentoring he has done with minorities over those years.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor for me to do this,” said Canepa.

GR Mayor George Heartwell said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First, will sit in Canepa’s well-worn chair beginning next month. “She is prepared to join us in January,” he said.

Term limits

Unlike some of the politicians that occupy the nation’s capital, Lisa Haynes and David Leonard have been term limited and are forbidden from faithfully serving on the city’s Parking Commission for, like, a long time. Haynes, who directs downtown operations for GVSU, joined the board in early 2003 and has been the group’s chairwoman for the past several years. 

“The institutional knowledge they have here is remarkable and useful,” she said of the Parking Services staff last week. “I’ve enjoyed my time here.”

Leonard, an attorney with Spectrum Health, joined the commission in 2005 and has been a logical voice on the board for the last six years. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed my time,” he said.

Pam Ritsema, the city’s enterprise division director, said three ramps have been added to the system downtown during the tenures of Haynes and Leonard. “I want to thank you for your years of service. What will you do with your third Thursdays?” she asked.

A good question that neither answered. Mark Rambo, of GVSU, and SME’s Jeff Edwards will fill their spots on those Thursdays.

All aboard

’Tis the season to be shuttling, apparently. The recent Uptown Holiday Shop Hop, an annual event, drew a really big crowd of neighborhood shoppers. Mark Lewis, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, told the Business Journal that the Dec. 1 event transported 2,883 passengers over six DASH shuttles between the East Fulton, Eastown, East Hills and Wealthy Street shopping districts.

“I figure at least as many people were out in the neighborhoods but not riding the free shuttles,” he said. “Not bad for a $3,337 event paid out of pocket by some really dedicated merchants and a few generous shuttle sponsors.”

Holly Jolly, golly!

Tommy Allen all but guaranteed last week that there will be a second Holly Jolly next holiday season. Allen, who co-directed the first with Tina Derusha, said Independent Bank was key for them to be able to pull off the two-day event. “Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible,” he said.

Downtown’s Schuler Books & Music won the holiday window-decorating award and One Girl’s Treasure picked up the People’s Award, which was sponsored by Independent Bank.

We’ll bet you $1.8 million there will be a second Holly Jolly.

Capital outlay

Oops, sorry, we didn’t mean to sound like Mitt. Actually, the $1.8 million is what the Michigan Economic Growth Authority awarded Brookstone Capital last week in brownfield tax credits for its $19.5 million project planned for downtown. Brookstone plans to build two new structures: one each on Division Avenue and on Cherry Street, with a total of 90 apartments and ground-floor retail space.

MEGA also awarded the Gateway Marketplace project in Detroit a brownfield credit and tax capture worth about $17 million. Gateway will be the first new retail center for Tigertown in 50 years. A Meijer store is anchoring the project. It’s the second Meijer to go into Lionstown.

In all, MEGA ratified incentives for 11 projects last week worth a reported $1.2 billion in new investments and up to 7,601 direct jobs. It’s a nice going-away gift from MEGA, which disappears at midnight Jan. 1, to be replaced by the Michigan Business Development and Michigan Community Revitalization Programs, or MBD/MCRP for s-h-o-r-t.

“We’re seeing new business investments across our state from Detroit to Grand Rapids to Oakland County to the Bay area and Lansing,” said Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “New industries are picking Michigan over national competitors, old plants and downtowns are reviving, and major retailers are seeing opportunities in Detroit (also known as RedWingstown).”

MEGA approved 133 brownfield projects this year worth about $2 billion in investments. Memorize those numbers so we can compare the figures to what the MBD/MCRP comes up with in 2012.

Tax max

Speaking of the state, Becky Bechler told the county’s Legislative Committee last week that tax revenue is flowing into Lansing at a faster pace than anyone could have expected.

“They could have up to $1.2 billion in surplus funds for the fiscal year,” said Bechler, an associate with Public Affairs Associates and the county’s Lansing lobbyist.

Oh great, just when things are getting better, the tax system is changing.

Don’t mention winter!

“Everyone knows we have winter,” said Rick Baker. “We don’t need to remind them.”

Baker, the new president/CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, was speaking at the 2012 Economic Outlook for West Michigan at DeVos Place last week. The topic was the challenges of recruiting new employees to West Michigan, such as the highly educated medical researchers needed on the Medical Mile.

Birgit Klohs of The Right Place got the ball rolling when she said that the Upper Midwest has an “image” problem in the minds of many people from other parts of the nation — something that makes them not want to move here.

She told the story of a California woman who moved to West Michigan when her husband took a job here. She was still showing her California driver’s license when using her credit card during the first few weeks of the transition. She told Klohs that clerks would ask about her license and be advised that she had recently arrived from California.

Then the clerk would likely as not say something like, “Cool! Have you experienced a Michigan winter yet?”

Klohs said after a few of those comments, the California woman was having second thoughts about being here.

“Don’t make negative comments” when telling people from elsewhere about West Michigan, Klohs implored the audience.

“Relentless positive thinking is critical,” she said.

Remember that this winter, everybody.

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