Local First

June 19, 2006
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Probably the most significant thing to come of Atlanta businessman Duane Faust’s Grand Rapids Development Corp. is that local media members have gotten a chance to get to know each other better.

Whether it’s Showgirls Galleria owner Mark London optioning his property, letter-of-intent day at city hall or last week’s meet-the-local-partners event, the River Grand development has had more media mixers than a public school privatization vote.

This week the region learned who was on the inside all along, and it turned out that a surprising number of local firms were as adept at keeping a secret as the mythical Men In Black.

By all appearances, these local firms have each been involved in a separate piece of the project, and not a one knows what the big picture looks like. And, yes, after yet another week in the spotlight, not a single member of the media has any idea, either.

As reported in the story on page 3, Faust has no intention of clarifying anything — he doesn’t believe he should have to. Realistically, if he does have some hot tenant lined up, he’d be well-advised to keep it to himself; there are at least three marquee local developers with big chunks of comparable riverfront land that would love to scoop up Interscope Records, Google, Kmart, the United Nations or who-knows-what. And none of those are across the street from a strip club.

Interestingly, one of those developers was represented on the city’s proposal review team, which seems to have existed for no other reason than to slight the whole process. Judging from the recommendations of a group made largely of potential competitors, the city’s best option would be to keep using the spot as a snowplow parking lot.

At least one member of the committee was promoting a more explicit agenda last week in some circles: that the city should not be facilitating an outside interest to develop land in competition with local companies.

Maybe we should have Meijer put together a committee to approve the next Wal-Mart proposal?

Besides, if Grand Rapids doesn’t want the project, there are other waterfront towns in Michigan with the same type of acreage (see Muskegon and Mart Dock property, for one). And Mayor Steve Warmington has a better disposition toward “outsiders” too.

The same committee member also questioned Faust’s proposed diversity plans. Maybe he’s thrown the whole idea out as a way to gain political favor? The notion of a mixed-used development open to all classes and cultures is certainly a bold one. It’s also incredibly hard for any developer to believe: When was the last time a for-profit company built subsidized housing when it could have built high-end condos?

Much like how Mayor George Heartwell’s effort to curb adult entertainment has served only to promote it, the review members may quickly learn that prejudicing any of the proposals could have some severe consequences.

Sure, there is a possibility that when Faust shows his cards he’ll have nothing but queen-high. A whole lot of people will look silly and he’ll go back home to where no one cares what happens on the Grand River

It also might rain on the Fourth of July, but it makes a lot more sense to wait until you see the sky before making a guess.

On a related note, London has acquired a liquor license for his downtown strip club, and is now working his way through the city’s legal hurdles toward approval. This must be what Faust meant when he said his entertainment district will have something for the whole family.

  • This Saturday, the 3rd Annual Local First Street Party will feature local food, local bands and local beer from to in front of Bistro Bella Vita in downtown Grand Rapids at
    44 Grandville Ave. SW.

Entertainment includes LaFamiglia, Cabildo, Lynn Thompson and more. Refreshments and cuisine is available from Bistro, GB Russo and Son’s, Mary Ann’s Chocolates, Grand Central Market, Founder’s Brewery and more.

  • Gov. Jennifer Granholm seemed to have gotten a raw deal in her term of office. She inherited a deficit created largely by Republican tax cuts. The state’s economy took a nose dive even steeper than the rest of the Rust Belt, and it would have whether she was there or not.

But in light of recent poll results showing gubernatorial challenger Dick DeVos taking an eight-point lead, it is worth considering that perhaps Granholm played a larger part in the state’s perceived crisis than widely believed.

A year ago, DeVos was virtually unknown outside of West Michigan. All most of the state knew was that he was born into billions of dollars, promoted social policies at odds with the Detroit ethos, and was intimately involved with Asian sourcing and Republican politics. On top of that, he once ran Alticor: Who hasn’t heard a selling Amway joke?

If the Granholm camp can be so withdrawn as to let DeVos become the favorite when the deck was so heavily stacked against him, can her administration honestly be trusted to continue running the state?

  • In a ceremony hosted by Grand Rapids-born former President Gerald Ford, his wife Betty Ford, and their four children, the Gerald R. Ford Foundation today honored the efforts of the armed forces with the Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

The foundation bestows the award for courage, strength of character, diligence, determination in the face of adversity, compassion and integrity. Five individuals were honored — one from each branch of service — and an additional medal was presented to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, on behalf of the 2.6 million men and women who wear the uniform.

America’s armed forces remain a principled and compassionate military force to be reckoned with,” stated Ford. “Above all, through your personal sacrifice and dauntless courage, you make America safer and the world more free.”    

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