Ramping Up For Takeoff

August 24, 2007
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When Kent County commissioners approved the airport’s bond request last week, Commissioner James Vaughn made like Jeff Gordon and uttered his support of the motion in what is likely record time, maybe 1.5 nanoseconds. But Vaughn had a reason for putting his voice, if not his pedal, to the metal, as he said, “Let’s hurry up before it goes up again.”

At first blush the airport revenue bonds were expected to total $120 million, but reached $130 million last week. Those proceeds will go toward a $138 project that features a new parking ramp that will open in two years. Bond backers see the ramp as an attractive amenity that will help draw a low-cost carrier to the airport. “The ramp is very much a part of getting a low-cost airline here, and we’re continuing to try to do that,” said Commissioner Dean Agee, who also sits on the aeronautics board.

Aeronautics Director James Koslosky said his team is still talking with these airlines and said they have put together a strong incentive package to land one at the airport. If a carrier offers four daily flights for seven days a week, the airline will get a $1 million bonus in the first year. “It will happen,” said Koslosky.

Still, a few commissioners were a bit shaky about OK’ing so much money for parking spaces. Commissioner Nadine Klein voted for the bond, but said it was a lot of cash to borrow during uncertain economic times. Vaughn said he expects to see some African-American workers building the ramp. “I don’t see three African-Americans working on that (Michigan Street) hill project.”

Commissioners Brandon Dillon and Carol Hennessy said they want local workers on the job, without mentioning race, and Hennessy suggested using union labor because those workers are well trained. Both are Democrats. But another Democrat was the only vote against the bond package.

Commissioner Dick Bulkowski said “no” because airport revenue grew by $2.9 million last year, largely due to parking rate increases and a “yes” vote would likely result in even higher charges for parking. Agee countered that fliers will have other, less expensive parking options like the shuttle lot.

County Fiscal Services Director Robert White said the airport is saving about $4.5 million by having the county’s Triple-A rating behind the bonds instead of flying solo. Commissioner Fritz Wahlfield jumped in with, “As for the amount of money, if you say it real fast, it doesn’t sound so bad.”

The airport’s annual debt service is expected to range from $7.5 million to $8 million. So the $130 million should cost the airport from $225 million to $240 million over the bond’s 30-year term. Pricing will happen in a few weeks.

  • After commissioners approved the airport bonds, they gave the county’s Hospital Finance Authority the green light to issue a $225 million bond package on behalf of Metro Hospital. Earlier this summer, they did the same for $400 million worth by filing a request from Spectrum Health. Commissioner Paul Mayhue made a pretty keen observation about the local hospitals: “They’re always asking for big money, aren’t they?”
  • Well, big money won’t be necessary for local hockey fans to get an up-close look at the Detroit Red Wings, who are making their first ensemble visit in quite a few slashing and hooking penalties. They’ll be at the arena on Sept. 19. The GR Griffins are having “Wings for Lunch” from 11:30 to 3 that day, and locals can eat, watch the Red Wings and Griffins practice, and get some autographs for a whole lot less than a hospital bond package.

Ageless defenseman and restaurant owner Chris Chelios is the poster boy for the event. And who knows, maybe Chelios will treat a few lucky fans to some of his world-renowned chili. All proceeds go to the Griffins Youth Foundation, and the West Michigan Jeep Dealers are the sponsor. The team’s Web site has complete info.

  • Plante & Moran has officially signed a 12-year lease agreement with Front Street Property for 34,000 square feet in a new three-story office building to be built along the Grand River near Fish Ladder Park. The new building will feature 46,000 square feet of office space atop a two-story parking deck.

As of Thursday, Front Street Property had yet to hear whether the Michigan Economic Development Corp. will grant the project a Single Business Tax credit of $850,000 as requested, said Joe Hooker, development services manager for Christman Co.

Christman Co. will occupy half of the building’s third floor. Hooker said he expects to be notified of the decision in the next week or two. The city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority recently granted the site brownfield designation, which allows Front Street Property to capture state and local taxes worth $554,550 over an estimated eight years.

George Riddering, managing partner of Plante & Moran’s Grand Rapids office, said that the company’s 100 staff members will move out of their current headquarters in Bridgewater Place and into the Front Street Building in November 2008. Plante & Moran will have signage on the top portion of the building, Riddering said.

“We feel that by moving, we’re going to help with the urban growth and development that the Front Street Building will create on the west side of the riverbank,” Riddering. “The new building really provides us with the opportunity to create some custom space with some room for future growth.”

  • Relating to the 15-year rebirth of the city’s riverfront discussed in this week’s page B1 story, former Mayor John Logie has discovered a unique and little-known feature of the Grand River: It is one of the premier crew racing destinations in North America.

“It’s very wide, so you can set up four to six lanes very easily, and it’s not a fast river, so the current isn’t much of a factor,” said Logie, relaying insights from area racers. “And this last part that makes it so great really surprised me: that it’s relatively shallow.”

When a paddle hits the water, the rowing motion sends energy port and aft as the boat is propelled along. The water displacement also sends waves downward that dissipate without notice in most lakes and rivers. In shallow water, the waves hit bottom and bounce back to the canoe or kayak, giving it a “lift.”

“Rowers get their best times when they race here,” Logie said. “And it’s perfectly legal.”   

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