Street Talk

Street Talk: Banking on bright shining buildings

Park it in these bathrooms

August 5, 2016
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Sam Cummings made sure to mention convenient parking in his discussion with the Business Journal last week about the CWD Real Estate Investment renovations of the Calder Plaza Building, which currently has lots of room for tenants.

The extensive renovation of the 1980 building is just the most recent in a slew of downtown renovations and developments, and Cummings said parking still needs to be at the forefront of discussion.

Meanwhile, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and its executive director, Kris Larson, continue to push alternative transportation — which did get a boost when a list of the top 10 walkable neighborhoods in the Midwest focused on two Grand Rapids neighborhoods, including Heartside.

Still, Grand Rapids is a commuter town and will be for the foreseeable future, so more concentration on convenient parking is needed.

“Whatever the future may bring, those are all good things to work toward,” Cummings said. “The reality of the facts is 90 percent of people who work downtown commute from outside of downtown. We need to accommodate the existing customers.”

Cummings did say he has high hopes for the long-term plausibility of future multi-modal transportation.

Once more people are living downtown in all of the developments currently in the pipeline, and once technology allows for self-driving cars, then people can focus on the most important goal of the Calder Plaza Building’s renovation — at least according to CWD Real Estate Investment’s Scott Wierda: “The most kick-ass bathrooms in downtown Grand Rapids.”

Banking on it?

On the other end of Calder Plaza, at the bank that Richard Gillette built and David Wagner gave away (aka Old Kent Bank, now Fifth Third Bank), there’s speculation but no answers in terms of the bank’s tenancy in a place called the Fifth Third Bank Building.

The building is largely occupied by Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, but the law firm is the anchor tenant of a new office building planned by Orion Real Estate Solutions in the current Ellis parking lot bounded by Ottawa, Ionia, Pearl and Lyon.

Orion President John Wheeler has told the Business Journal the project will be finished in 2018, just preceding Warner’s lease expiration in the Fifth Third Bank Building. Will Fifth Third remain, or will it sell and settle into its growing mega-complex on East Paris Avenue in Kentwood?

Stay curious, my friends, because a Bank of American representative says she has “this bright shining building” in mind.

Yes, into the ever-changing, increasingly competitive financial services market comes Bank of America, still winning national headlines for investor and stockholder fights and a hang-tough CEO who is also president.

Bank of America President and CEO Brian Moynihan found his way to the richness — er, vastness of West Michigan, far from its Detroit-area offices. Moynihan’s dedication to BoA growth into West Michigan has a face: Renee Tabben will serve as the company’s first-ever Grand Rapids market president. In her new role, Tabben is tasked with connecting and fortifying Bank of America’s presence in the region through community outreach and connecting the bank’s partners.

“When I think about three to four years from now, I’m looking to make sure that, first and foremost, we’re serving Grand Rapids to our potential, not on what we did year over year,” Tabben said. “Secondly, it’s a great place to work. Third, how are we making sure that it’s a great place to live? I know that’s broad, but I have this bright shining building in my mind.”

Moynihan put it a little more succinctly during his and Tabben’s sit-down with the Business Journal. “She concentrates on one market, and I have the luxury of having talent like her so I get to sit back and watch it all happen,” he laughed, before going on to elucidate that Bank of America prides itself on being a national bank that maintains a hyperlocal presence, and market presidents like Tabben make that work.

“She has the power to convince, cajole and push and review,” Moynihan said. And we have talent planning that goes on in local markets to help young people move their career along — business lines and local political force, centers of influence, lawyers and accountants — and it’s her job to build those relationships with her team while we bring her the capabilities of a worldwide class, locally.” (See the story on Page 3.)

Author tackles racism

Dr. Andre Fields, counselor and assistant professor at Grand Rapids Community College, will host a discussion about the impact of racism on black men Tuesday at the Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library St. NE.

Fields is the author of “Journey to the American Dream: A 21-day Survival Guide for Overcoming Racism,” a workbook for young black men, and “Psychology of Racism: Made in America: The Psychological Evolution of the Black Male.”

Fields will discuss the impact of racism and discrimination on the psychological evolution of black men. He will also outline specific strategies that can assist black men in processing racism, stigma and discrimination.

Fields said he was prompted to write “Journey” to empower black males to remain confident, motivated and focused in their pursuits toward the American Dream.

“According to research, black males are the most socially stigmatized category of American citizen,” Fields said. “The sad reality is that if history repeats itself, this will probably be this way for the next few generations.

“When faced with an inescapable and unavoidable situation such as racism and stigma, it is important that black males have a way of thinking that allows them to remain empowered despite facing extreme national rejection.”

Fields said black men living in Grand Rapids experience racism everywhere.

“In national rankings, Michigan is considered to be the third-worst state in the nation as it relates to the eventual life outcomes of black children,” Fields said. “Of the 52 largest cities in American, Grand Rapids is considered the second-worst city economically for black Americans.”

Fields said in his role at GRCC, he often sees young black men who have “already mentally prepared themselves for failure.”

“It seems to me that a good portion of black males psychologically drop out of GRCC midway through their first semester of college,” Fields said.

Fields said GRCC has taken steps to combat the psychological impacts of racism in black men.

“At GRCC we have a fraternity designed to engage black males with people, information, activities and experiences that will empower them to fully engage in the process of being educated and attaining a career,” Fields said. “For four consecutive years, black males in this program have outperformed black males who are not in this program.

“As a psychologist, this makes sense to me. When you immerse any young man in an environment that is accepting and affirming of his personhood, he is more likely to thrive.”

Fields’ talk will take place from 7-8:30 p.m.

The first 50 single mothers with sons age 14-24 to attend will receive a free copy of “Journey.”

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