Who Needs Windsor?

April 11, 2007
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If Grand Rapids politicians and rainmakers return from spring break this week and take up former Ambassador Peter Secchia's plan for a publicly owned downtown casino, it would not be without precedent.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was a signature away from a city-owned casino in 2003 in one of his several attempts to bring gambling to the Windy City. Secchia's idea, which he said he would not personally lead, should face similar hurdles.

Whereas Chicago was eyeing gaming for revenue purposes — as are ongoing proposals for state-owned casinos in Kansas, Minnesota and New Hampshire — Secchia's plan is in direct response to the tribal Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, a project he long opposed as a member of opposition group 23 is Enough.

"We assumed (the Wayland casino) was inevitable, but we had to postpone it until the downtown gained its strength and vitality and vibrancy over the last three or four years," he said. "I've spent 30 years helping clean up buildings, remodel them and bring in tenants. I've tried to get business downtown, and they're doing OK but struggling."

Secchia is concerned that the convention traffic the downtown area is starting to realize will be diverted to Allegan County hotels and entertainment. This, too, is not without precedent. When the Ontario province-owned Casino Windsor (soon to be Caesars Windsor) opened its doors in 1994 as a means to diversify away from the automotive industry and to develop its "Tijuana North" reputation, as reported recently in Canadian Business, it immediately shifted entertainment dollars from U.S. soil. That led to the Detroit casinos.

"There is a reason the tribe moved to Wayland," Secchia said, referring to the casino proprietors, commonly known as the Gun Lake Tribe. "They wanted to be between Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Holland. There is wealth there and they wanted to get some of that. … That is their economic development plan, and if I recognize this, and if I consider doing something about it, I'm a racist and a hypocrite."

Secchia, in a report published April 2 in the Penasee Globe in Wayland, said, "I'm part Indian, but I can't prove it."

Adding to the discussion: Perhaps rather than a city-owned casino, seemingly doomed from the start, supporters could look at Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' state-owned casino plan, which combines the hopes of four separate communities across the state into a single proposal. Here, the state could link Grand Rapids to current proposals in Oakland County, Port Huron and elsewhere.

  • Also involved in the gaming issue is state Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, who did not see the March 23 is Enough statement damning Gov. Jennifer Granholm's compact with the Gun Lake Tribe, and says he certainly did not crib data from it for his proposal to reopen negotiations on all Michigan tribal gaming compacts, as was surmised in Street Talk last week. He did say the group was an influence.

In truth, 23 is Enough has yet to go on record with such a proposal. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce appears to be the only group to publicly call for such an effort, doing so within hours of the compact announcement.

"We as a chamber still stand by our position that a casino will have a detrimental impact economically to our region and state," chamber vice president of government affairs Jared Rodriquez told the Business Journal at the time. "But this is an opportunity to renegotiate current compacts with other casinos in the state … possibly to raise revenue sharing to a percentage more comparable to that of the Detroit casinos."

  • Seven West Michigan companies were named to the 2007 list of Michigan 50 Companies to Watch by the Edward Lowe Foundation.

The tri-city lakeshore area had six entries, second only to Ann Arbor.

From Holland, cell phone software maker Crayon Interface, custom restaurant furniture manufacturer Charter House Innovations, and lighting and electronics fabricator EBW Electronics made the list. GMI Composites, a Muskegon-based plastics company, Grand Haven interactive education firm Media 1, and Norton Shores' Red Cedar Logistics were also honored.

Supply Chain Solutions was the lone Grand Rapids entry.

The companies will receive the award at the third annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business event Thursday in East Lansing, in conjunction with the Small Business Association of Michigan's annual awards.

Although not a local firm, Ann Arbor's Cybernet Systems Corp. deserves a mention, a company that for nearly a year had a disclaimer on its Web site noting that it had no connection to CyberNET Group, Barton Watson's infamous technology flameout. 

Also being honored at the event are the 12 winners of Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center's Best New Business award. Winning in Region 7, which covers West Michigan proper, is Foxbright, the Grand Rapids technology firm created by the merger of Rob Huisingh's H2ML and Catherine Ettinger and Paula Whisman's CordesTech.

Winning in neighboring Region 11 was Kalamazoo startup Aerial Angels, a high-flying female traveling circus.

  • Not a good year for VoEX. In the fall, the VoIP launch was acquired by a private equity group and subsequently relocated its headquarters from Grand Rapids to Silicon Valley (although the local presence remains largely unchanged). Last week, one of its founding members, Michael Vorce, no longer with the firm, made the news with a federal raid at his current venture, security firm Redline22.

Little is known of the case at this time, only that it is connected to the large fraud case at Macatawa Bank, and that Redline22, with operations in, among other areas, combat Iraq, is likely only involved through Vorce's investment in it.

  • This week, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan will host former Secretary of Defense William Cohen for its 58th anniversary dinner on Wednesday night at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

The Product Development and Management Association and the American Marketing Association of West Michigan will present their first joint conference tomorrow at Frederik Meijer Gardens. The topic is "Connecting the Dots: Customers, Marketing and Processes."

Also tomorrow, Aquest Machining and Assembly president Bob Playford will celebrate his 50th birthday, no doubt recalling the company growth from his kitchen table to a stable Greenville manufacturer.

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