Street Talk: First things first


Several high-profile guests, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, drew a sold-out crowd to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park at a luncheon celebration of what would have been former first lady Betty Ford’s 100th birthday.

Ford died in 2011, five years after the death of her husband, President Gerald R. Ford.

The annual event, which took place April 11 and was organized by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, is called “America’s First Ladies: An Enduring Legacy.” This year, the program was emceed by Liesel Litzenburger Meijer, a community leader who is married to Hank Meijer.

As a former first lady, U.S. secretary of state and 2016 presidential candidate, Clinton was the top-billed panelist in a discussion moderated by NBC and MSNBC television news reporter and anchor Andrea Mitchell.

Former first daughter Susan Ford Bales introduced the panelists, referring to them as her “dear friends” who came with “no fanfare or press entourage” to Blair House and sat with her mother and her in the hours after President Ford’s death.

Clinton and Mitchell discussed their relationships with Betty Ford, forged through her campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment, which Mitchell covered early in her career, and from which Clinton took inspiration in her own work on gender equality.

“It is such a great personal pleasure for me to be here with all of you in honor of Betty, who as Andrea rightly said, was someone who I looked up to, who I followed, and who, in my opinion, was one of the most transformational Americans in the last half of the 20th century,” Clinton said, referring to Betty Ford’s work on the ERA, as well as awareness and treatment of breast cancer and drug and alcohol addiction stemming from her personal experience.

Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, the daughter of former President Lyndon B. Johnson and first lady Lady Bird Johnson, also spoke on the panel. At 74, she is now the oldest living first child.

“Betty Ford was a role model for a lot of people,” Johnson Robb said. “She faced life with great courage and went forth and taught us a lot about cancer with a big C, which nobody ever mentioned. It was unspeakable then. And later, (she) taught us about how to handle other health problems. I just greatly admire her.”

At the beginning of the program, Litzenburger Meijer called out several distinguished guests in the audience, including Motown singer Martha Reeves, local philanthropist Peter Secchia, Ford Foundation Executive Director Joe Calvaruso, and his wife, Donna Calvaruso, and former first son, the Rev. Michael Gerald Ford.

“I think character is one thing my father and mother embodied,” Michael Ford said in an interview with the Business Journal before the program. “Really, just decent, good people who want to have others around them thrive and flourish and reach their potential. That kind of spirit and character was important in their lives and I think can really be reflected in our (Gerald R. Ford Presidential) Foundation work.”

Ford Bales said her mother’s work continues through the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

“We are always doing a lot of public advocacy, and we’re also trying to make a major difference in the epidemic of the drug and alcohol use with Narcom. That’s a big issue,” she said. “There’s also a great movement to maybe bring back the ERA movement, so we’ll see.”


As new opportunities for real estate investment become scarce, Colliers International West Michigan is looking toward self-storage as an “untapped market.”

“We really think it’s a hot market right now for this product type,” said Jeff Hainer, Colliers International West Michigan senior research analyst. “Much of the other opportunities in our market have been eaten up over this long economic recovery.”

Trent Wieringa, associate vice president for Colliers International West Michigan, said prices for premium storage facilities are at an all-time high.

“Some of these things are selling above replacement costs,” he said. “They’re selling more than what you build them for.”

The growth in value is partly driven by regional and national real estate investment trusts taking a new interest in West Michigan.

“When you see REITs come into town, rates go up,” Wieringa said. “These facilities are still locally owned, but the REITs come in and increase rates.”

Wieringa also said West Michigan’s growing population also increases the demand for self-storage on the tenant side.

“They’re coming back from college in Chicago and starting a family here,” he said. “As a result, there’s more stuff here. People need places to put their items.”

Similar to other industrial properties, the demand for self-storage keeps the market tight. Colliers recently facilitated the sale of three properties owned by Your Space Self Storage, which Wieringa said had multiple interested buyers.

Of the three properties, only one was listed on the market — and only for a short while.

“Lots of deals are getting done outside of traditional avenues,” Hainer said. “This is a good example of our brokers knowing of an opportunity, knowing an eager investor and connecting them.”

But the increased demand also creates a crunch for people wishing to store their belongings. Most of the facilities in West Michigan are at 95-100 percent capacity.

Wieringa said he expects growth to continue, though it may level off shortly.

“I don’t know if it’s 12 months or 24 months from now,” he said. “The big thing to watch is interest rates. If they go up, it will affect capitalization rates.”

Next up

The Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Holland Zeeland Area received the Pinnacle of Partnership Award from the Greater Ottawa County United Way.

The recipient of the award “exemplifies a commitment to improve the quality of life for Ottawa County residents through leadership in service and education, as well as a year-round partnership with Greater Ottawa County United Way.”

The award was presented last month at the United Way’s annual celebration at the Spring Lake Country Club.

“Our mission is to improve the lives of every person who lives, works and plays in our community,” said Holly Johnson, GHACF president. “Tough issues like workforce housing require partnering with other organizations to really have an impact. We’re honored to be recognized for our work alongside our regional partners.”

The foundations have worked together with the United Way to form Housing Next, a cross-sector collaborative initiative involving nonprofit, government and business partners that strives to create and promote a strong economic case for additional workforce housing units in the greater Ottawa County region of Michigan.

“The core motivation for our efforts on workforce housing is a desire for all individuals in our community to be financially stable,” said Mike Goorhouse, CFHZ president. “GHACF and the United Way share that vision with us, which has greatly strengthened our community’s ability to make progress on this very important topic. We are grateful to have such dedicated partners and to highlight our collaboration together.”

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