One last look before its off to Lansing

September 18, 2011
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Local attorney Nyal Deems, spokesman for the One Kent Coalition, told the Business Journal the group is taking one of its last looks at the legislation it plans to send to Lansing to consolidate the county and Grand Rapids into a new metro government. One Kent had hoped to get its legislation introduced this month.

“We are again reviewing our draft of the legislation, hoping to finalize it soon. I do not know if we will be finished this month. If we don’t, we will try and finish as soon thereafter as we can,” wrote Deems in an e-mail last week.

Another matter One Kent is looking into is whether to coalition has to register as a “ballot-question” group, as defined by the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. The Business Journal asked three attorneys to weigh in on that matter, and the result was mixed. One said the coalition should have done that already. Another said it wasn’t necessary at this point. And a third hasn’t responded after agreeing to do so.

“We have asked a party who specializes in such registering to let us know if we need to register and, if we do, to do that for us. That party is reviewing the issue of registration,” said Deems.

A fraudulent prosecution?

After GR District Court Judge David Buter dismissed the fraud charges leveled by the Michigan Attorney General’s office against Joseph Peters and local developer Jack Buchanan Jr. in the Hanger42 film studio project, Buchanan issued a statement that celebrated the end of the year-long prosecution.

“I’m so grateful that justice has been served. After exhaustive review of the evidence, the court concluded that all charges should be thrown out as there was no factual basis for them,” said Buchanan. “It is unfortunate that the state and others destroyed what would have been a fantastic opportunity for Michigan. A vibrant film industry and a state-of-the-art facility would have provided tremendous growth and jobs for West Michigan.”

One interesting aspect of the case was that then-AG Mike Cox charged Peters, the buyer, in August 2010 but didn’t charge Buchanan, the seller. It was current-AG Bill Schuette who charged Buchanan in January, five months after Peters was charged. Anyway, local attorney Terry Dillon, a partner in Myers, Nelson, Dillon & Shierk PLLC, also commented: “The court found that there was not even probable cause for the case to go forward and we are very grateful for the court giving us a full and fair hearing,” he said.

Downtown, where all the lights are bright

Popular 1960’s singer Petula Clark was right. The lights are really brighter downtown, at least in Grand Rapids. The International Downtown Association, which is based in the nation’s capital, recently honored the GR Downtown Development Authority’s Framework Plan with its Merit Award as part of the group’s 2011 Downtown Achievement Awards, which received 63 submissions.

“We commend your efforts and hope you are especially proud to be among the projects selected by our jury,” wrote David Downey, president and CEO of the IDA, in a letter to DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler. The DDA’s plan will be listed in the IDA’s annual conference program book and on its website. The conference will be held this week in Charlotte, N.C.

Almost time to eat

Experience Grand Rapids revealed last week that 71 restaurants will take part in the second annual Restaurant Week. Experience GR President Doug Small, who brought the idea with him from Denver, said most of the restaurants will offer three-course meals for $25 per person, but a few will offer a two-for-$25 menu for those who prefer a more casual or less expensive alternative.

“Grand Rapids has so many great restaurants that it’s time for people to get out and explore these unique restaurants that will undoubtedly become their favorites,” said Small, who has admitted in the past that he knows a thing or two about eating. “If you’re looking for an excuse to dine out, this is definitely the time to do it.”

The DDA and Experience GR are the event’s major underwriters. Sysco, Founders Bank & Trust, Valley City Linen, Grey Goose, Founders Brewing Co., Joel Gott Wines and the GR Downtown Alliance are the major sponsors. Go to for a list of participating restaurants.

While we’re considering eating experiences, downtown’s newest restaurant opened last week. Ruth’s Chris Steak House moved into the space formerly occupied by The 1913 Room in the Amway Grand Plaza, which, by the way, celebrated its 30th anniversary last week. The new eatery offers 200 seats and 62 jobs. The hotel owns and operates the steak house.

Sweet music

The Grand Rapids Symphony and its musicians, members of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians Local 56, have agreed to a four-year labor contract.

The symphony board of directors unanimously approved the agreement at its Sept. 15 meeting after the musicians voted for the new contract Sept. 9. The contract continues a wage freeze followed by modest increases over the life of the agreement.

“Given the challenges that arts organizations across the country are experiencing, this long-term agreement is a particularly significant achievement,” said Symphony President and CEO Peter Kjome. “Careful cost controls, in combination with successful fundraising efforts and increased ticket sales, have helped allow us to reach agreement.”

Specifically, the new contract:

  • Calls for holding weekly musician wages at current levels during the first year, with increases of 2 percent in each of the next two years followed by a 3 percent increase in the 2014-15 season. Compensation has been frozen at reduced levels since 2009, when musicians, executive and artistic leadership, along with administrative staff, joined in compensation reductions ranging from 5 to 20 percent.

  • Holds open three full-time and one part-time position in the orchestra.

  • Continues to suspend employer contributions to the 401(k) plan. Contributions for staff remain suspended, as well.

  • Makes no changes to health insurance, although it provides the opportunity to revisit health benefits during the term of the agreement.

“Our musicians are committed to sustaining and elevating the artistic excellence of the Grand Rapids Symphony,” said Diane Helle, symphony violinist and co-lead negotiator for Musicians Local 56. “We have been in ongoing discussions with Peter Kjome, board members and staff in order to reach this agreement and ensure a bright future for our wonderful orchestra.”

Discussions about the contract were supported by a shared commitment to focus on key strategic objectives such as artistic excellence, community engagement and education, supported by rigorous cost controls, increased ticket sales and strong fundraising results.

“The board of the Grand Rapids Symphony is very pleased that the parties were able to reach a long-term agreement in this challenging economic environment,” said Symphony Board Chairperson Steve Waterbury. “It is important that we work to leverage the increased operational stability that comes with this agreement to support the artistic goals of the Symphony.”

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