Looking To The Champ

March 2, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Convention and Arena Authority hopes to have an unexpected ally in its corner soon to help with the board’s ongoing effort to get more minority residents and businesses involved with DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena.

CAA Chairman Steven Heacock suggested last week that the board attempt to create a relationship with the Floyd Mayweather Foundation, a nonprofit organization started two years ago by the Grand Rapids native and reigning super lightweight boxing champion of the world.

Heacock noted that the CAA has an “insider” on the foundation’s local advisory board, Grand Rapids City Manager Kurt Kimball. He asked Kimball, a CAA staff member, to see if there was an opportunity for the groups to work together on the board’s diversity initiative, and Kimball agreed to do that.

The CAA has another connection with the foundation, although not as direct as the one Kimball has. Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio holds a position at the CAA similar to the one Kimball does, and his assistant administrator, Wayman Britt, also has a seat on the local advisory board.

The Mayweather Foundation held a full weekend of events here last month. One was a stand-up comedy show at the arena that Heacock attended. Unlike most events where arena-goers head west on Fulton Street after a show to catch a highway to the suburbs, he noticed most of this crowd went east on Fulton.

“They turned left because they live in the city,” he said.

CAA member Clif Charles, who is heading the diversity effort for the board, said more progress has been made in a couple of the areas the endeavor has set as goals. He said two bilingual employees were recently hired to work at the buildings, and a new internship program was being formed to replace the current one when it ends in six months.

Charles said a list of minority vendors was also being compiled. When the list is done, he said the CAA will hold an open house for those vendors to get them acquainted with the board’s bid process and the type of goods and services the convention center and arena need.

Another goal of the diversity program is to have more events that appeal to African-Americans and Hispanics booked at both buildings. SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan, also CAA executive director, said he can’t book Tina Turner or Prince every year, so his staff is looking to link shows to events held locally like this summer’s low-rider, car-hopping event in Wyoming.

“It’s building on what we have now and trying to make that diverse, and finding a few events that fit that mission,” said MacKeigan.

Charles said he meets monthly with MacKeigan, Skot Welch of Diversity Management Systems, and Joe Jones of Strategic Communications Group to develop tactics and measure the effort’s progress. The CAA hired Welch and Jones as consultants for its diversity initiative.

“I’m tremendously pleased with what (they) have accomplished,” said Heacock, who made the initiative one of the board’s goals a few years ago.

Kimball and Britt were named to the local advisory board last month along with William Cunningham, Lamont Walker, Robert Dean, Theodore Jansma Jr. and Debra Muller, all local residents. Cunningham chairs the board. Walker is vice chair. The foundation’s Las Vegas Board of Trustees approved the appointments.

One of the foundation’s goals is to “empower and encourage community alliances,” just what Heacock suggested Kimball look into doing with Mayweather’s organization. Although the foundation is based in Las Vegas, where the champ lives and trains, the nonprofit has pledged that it will focus much of its work on Grand Rapids.

As for Mayweather, the super lightweight king will step into another kind of ring later this month to face Paul “Big Show” Wight in a professional wrestling match in Orlando. Charles feigned a bit of concern for the prize fighter’s health and for the board’s hope to create a tie with his foundation, knowing that Mayweather would soon grapple with a man nearly twice his physical size.

“We better hurry,” he said, “and get this thing done.”

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