Street Talk

Street Talk: They would have been pleased with some coal

Suit yourself.

December 27, 2013
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The Grinch who stole Christmas 2013 from hundreds of thousands of Michiganders has been identified: It was Mother Nature.

“We have never had a storm that affected this many customers during the Christmas holidays, in our 126-year history,” said Terry DeDoes of Consumers Energy.

Linemen from other power companies as far away as Georgia were expected to arrive in Michigan Dec. 26 to help out, part of a mutual assistance agreement among the utilities.

If you are reading this on your home computer at grbj.com on Saturday, Dec. 28, you may be one of the lucky ones who didn’t lose power. According to DeDoes, about 360,000 customers were without power after the ice storm Dec. 21.

The central part of the state had it worse than West Michigan where the power was predicted to be back on by Dec. 26. Many CE customers in Lansing and points east probably would not emerge from the cold and dark until sometime Dec. 28. Some of the crews coming from 11 other states were headed to the Flint area, in particular.

DeDoes said Consumers has not been clobbered by an ice storm this bad since 2003.

The company had a good warning from weather forecasters before the storm hit, so line crews were on alert and prepared and service centers remained open on that fateful weekend.

In Lansing, said DeDoes on Dec. 26, there were still tree branches coated in ice hanging low over some roads, forcing motorists to gingerly drive around them.

“Ice storms create probably more challenges than any other kind of storm,” said DeDoes. The coating of ice adds to the difficulty and danger of repairing down lines, and the weight can snap off poles and other equipment that has to be rebuilt before the lines can be restrung.

Restoring power lines and equipment after any storm “isn’t cheap,” noted DeDoes.

MAC flak

The hoopla surrounding Michigan Athletic Club’s closure won’t go away.

CWD Real Estate, which purchased the site on which the club sits from Saint Mary’s, is not in the health club business. Saint Mary’s decided to get out of the health club business, at least at that location.

The firm headed by Sam Cummings, Scott Wierda and Dan DeVos is in the development business, however, and CWD is stockpiling some sites on the southeast side of town that includes the MAC, along with pieces of Breton Village Mall and a couple of other parcels in the area.

So the folks at Saint Mary’s should stop throwing CWD under the bus for “closing” the club, when all they really did was buy it after Saint Mary’s decided to divest.

On a related note, those looking for more health club options can turn their attention toward downtown. As some local athletic facilities are closing their doors, the University Club of Grand Rapids is thriving in its Fifth Third Center location.

“Many of our members say we have Grand Rapids’ best kept secret regarding our athletic club,” said Cynthia Poll, general manager. “We have all the features of a large athletic facility but without the busyness, so members are never made to wait for the next machine. …

“Although it is unfortunate that longtime clubs are shutting their doors, we hope those former members give us a try. I think they will be pleased with what they find at the UClub.”

Now, if they could just install some indoor tennis courts …

Dropping the T

What’s in a name? Apparently, a bit of panic from your stakeholders if you drop part of it. 

That’s the experience the Michigan Small Business Development Center, formerly the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center, recently faced after announcing it would be “dropping the T.” 

First off, everything’s fine and no one need be concerned, said Carol Lopucki, the center’s director. The name change isn’t part of any accreditation loss or center redirection. There is no plan to change the center’s technology, technology focus or staff, she assured. It’s just a re-branding tactic because people were having a hard time saying the name, she said. 

“It’s not a loss of anything. It’s just a branding. It’s easier to say,” she said. 

“People did call us panicked about (the name change).”

Lopucki said this move preludes an upcoming new website the center plans to release in the first quarter of 2014.

Attention, class

Roosevelt Tillman, a business owner in Grand Rapids, wants to file a class action lawsuit against Mercantile Bank for allegedly discriminating against blacks in its business loan procedures, but so far, it’s not a class action.

Attorneys for Tillman concede it won’t be easy making it a class action, either.

On Dec. 20, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Yates ruled that Tillman’s original discrimination suit can move forward but only with Tillman and his businesses as plaintiffs. He now has three months to file for class action certification.

Jordan C. Hoyer, who is representing Tillman, wrote on her law office’s website (jordanhoyerlaw.com) that the court agreed should Tillman “succeed on class certification, which is a significant hurdle for the case, he can represent all black-owned businesses and individuals within the class description.”

Hoyer wasn’t available to talk to the Business Journal last week but another member of her firm, Derek S. Witte, said that in order for it to become a class action, the court would have to be persuaded that all of the cases the Hoyer firm is familiar with “are so similar that it’s better to decide it as one case.”

Witte said about 10 individuals in the black community have provided information to Hoyer alleging discrimination by Mercantile Bank. He said the attorneys defending Mercantile will argue that each loan or loan application at issue is a different case.

“Our assertion is really basic,” said Witte. “We think, based on the information we have already gathered, our interviews, and some of our work with investigators, that the bank actually had, in their own words, a concerted effort, a specific policy where they pulled back loans from black businesses. And that’s the only issue we want at the trial.”

He said the number of people in the class action would be “a hundred or so.”

“This is a very difficult case for Jordan and me,” said Witte. “We think they really deserve to have their story heard, and that’s why we’re willing to sign our name to it.”

Mercantile is represented by Varnum. A partner there told the Business Journal the firm would not comment on the pending litigation.

Mercantile already is being investigated by the Federal Reserve Board, triggered when a New York activist/attorney protested the proposed Mercantile/Firstbank merger. Matthew R. Lee, who heads an organization called the Inner City Press/Fair Finance Watch, filed a protest under the Community Reinvestment Act in October, claiming Mercantile does not offer mortgages to African-Americans or Latinos.

Mercantile previously told the Business Journal that in its last two Community Reinvestment Act examinations, it received an “Outstanding” rating by the FDIC examiners, the highest possible.

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