Cattle barons and dogfights.

June 3, 2011
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There was an “interesting discussion” at Walker City Hall recently, according to Mayor Rob VerHeulen, regarding the 300-acre site in west Walker that was rezoned five years ago in the hope that Walker Orchard Land Partners would build a mall there anchored by a Cabela’s.

All or at least most of the parcels of real estate the developers had bought were foreclosed on in the last few months and are now the property of Chemical Bank.

Walker is just restarting its master plan process and “we’ve identified that entire area as one that we should take a look at and see if we would master plan it the same today as we did five years ago,” said VerHeulen.

He said it is “certainly possible” the city could decide to change that zoning again. “That particular project had lots of infrastructure needs that perhaps a less intense development would not require. So maybe we’re better off with a less intense development there.”

The project captured a great deal of public interest from its germination in 2006, one reason being the radical change it would have brought to a rural neighborhood still largely made up of apple orchards. Others were fascinated by the prospect of a business boom and new jobs right in their backyard. City officials insisted it be less of a conventional big-box-stores-type mall and more pedestrian-friendly with a housing component on-site, and that was factored into the rezoning.

“Even Gov. Granholm was very supportive of that project,” said VerHeulen. “I don’t often get calls from governors saying ‘What can I do to help?’” he said with a laugh.

VerHeulen actually had a telephone conversation with Granholm about the Orchard Park proposed development. He wasn’t sure who was calling whom or why, but it might have been in regard to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s involvement in support of it.

But VerHeulen definitely remembers the conversation.

“She gave me a cell number and said, ‘I’m very supportive of this project. If there’s anything I can do to help advance the cause in Lansing, call this number.’”

Gone and getting ready to be gone

Now that the state has a general operating budget — and in record time, too — statutory revenue sharing is officially a fond memory for city and township officials. It has been replaced by something called the Economic Vitality Incentive Program, which is supposed to reward municipalities that share services, consolidate and generally get along with state dollars. The EVIP reportedly has $200 million waiting to be eagerly handed out by Lansing. But according to Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula, not a cent will go to cities, townships, or counties that have already taken the proverbial bull by the horns and done a lot of those things voluntarily.

Kentwood Mayor Richard Root indicated that the $200 million just may not be shared. “The state budget is done. We might as well quit crying about that.” It sounds like a sensible thing to do because local public officials have another Excedrin-type worry popping up on their radar screen.

Stypula said municipalities are bracing themselves for the loss of another revenue source, namely the personal property tax. “The PPT is going to disappear. No doubt, the PPT is going to disappear,” he said. “And that revenue is significant in this area.” Stypula met with the leadership of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce last week to begin talks on how the lost PPT revenue can be replaced with the private sector’s support.

Golfing for dollars

Unlike state government, the Grand Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects coughed up as promised and chose two architectural students to receive $1,000 in scholarships.

Budding architects Allissa Hahn and Ethan Sims were chosen from a field of eight “highly qualified” would-be designers. Hahn just completed her undergraduate degree at U-M and is headed to the master’s program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Sims is a senior at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture.

The local chapter funds the scholarships through its annual golf outing, which tees off Wednesday.

Riding and roping good times

It’s almost time again, pardners, for diamonds and denim, black ties and cowboy boots as the ninth annual Cattle Baron’s Ball, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, is moseying into town Aug. 11 and 12. This year’s event features a “Stampede” at Crush Lounge in The BOB on the 11th and the main event at Steelcase Town Hall the following night.

“By supporting the American Cancer Society through events such as the Cattle Baron’s Ball, we are making a difference in the fight against cancer. Over the past eight years, funds raised through the Cattle Baron’s Ball have been critical in helping to support local programs and services offered here in West Michigan and beyond,” said Rick Keyes, executive vice president of Meijer Inc. and this year’s executive chairman of the ball.

More info on the event, including tickets, can be found at

A new FBO at the airport?

There was a little indoor turbulence at Gerald R. Ford International Airport the other day when the Kent County Aeronautics Board voted 4 to 2 in favor of allowing a third fixed-base operator to set up shop there. Private carriers Northern Air and Rapid Air, which have been FBOs there for many years, were not pleased.

Rothbury Executive Air is the new entity being set up at GFIA by Executive Air Transport, a private carrier that has been in business at the Muskegon County Airport since 1959. Executive Air and Rothbury Executive Air are both headed by Rex Vanderlinde.

A press release from Rothbury after the board meeting said it will build a $5 million facility that should be in operation by summer 2012, featuring 28,000 square feet of hangar space that can accommodate the Gulfstream 650V, plus an onsite commercial catering service, the first at GFIA.

On May 25, the aeronautics board held a special meeting to consider waiver and variance requests by Executive Air-Grand Rapids LLC (which soon morphed into Rothbury Executive Air). Northern Air had already presented its objections to the board a few days earlier, stating emphatically that “this is not about FBO competition,” but rather was an objection to what Northern Air said amounts to “spot changing/spot zoning” of the airport master plan and zoning, calling it “favoritism” toward Executive Air.

As far as “minimum standards” required for FBOs at GFIA, board vice chair Dick Vander Molen told the Business Journal that “everyone will have to meet those. Executive Air will meet the standards.” Vander Molen said Executive Air wanted its FBO in an area designated for general aviation/corporate hangars. Vander Molen said he is of the opinion that an FBO should not be considered general aviation.

“Even though we had two other spots that we had designated for an FBO,” noted Vander Molen, Executive Air insisted it didn’t want either. For that reason, he said he voted against the request by Executive Air — “not that I didn’t want them. They’ll be a great addition to our airport.”

“Now that they’ve got the permission to go (in the general/corporate area), we will make sure they meet every standard that everybody else has to meet,” he said.

As for Northern Air’s objections, he said, “I guess I don’t blame them.” The Executive Air plan “is going to be competition to them. This isn’t a huge airport.”

Chuck Cox, Northern Air CEO, declined to be interviewed regarding its next step — if any — but said through a spokesperson: “We are reviewing all viable options regarding this matter.”

Vander Molen said there would be no appeal at the aeronautics board’s level, “but there’s always legal challenges, and I’ve heard it said they may or may not do that.”

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