Varga, Silver Line cited with Newsmaker award


Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, earned the Business Journal’s 2014 Newsmaker of the Year Award. Photo by Johnny Quirin

It’s been a long road for Peter Varga.

The Rapid CEO spent the past 10-plus years haggling with the federal government for funding and approval for the state’s first bus rapid transit system.

That effort came to fruition in August when the Silver Line began its runs north and south along the Division Avenue corridor, from 60th Street to downtown.

On Wednesday, Varga was named the Business Journal’s 2014 Newsmaker of the Year.

“Every time we thought this wasn’t going to happen, it did,” Varga told more than 400 business leaders gathered at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. “People said it wasn’t going to be successful; it is. We pulled it together $4 million short (of budget projections) and on time.”

For that effort — and the promise of the economic development to come along the corridor, Varga earned the Business Journal’s top honor.

“The primary goal was economic development, developing the 131 corridor,” he said. “We wanted to make it easier for people to live, work and use transit.

“Public transit is good for business, and business is good for public transit.”

Varga was one of 19 individuals to earn Newsmaker honors in 16 separate industries, with his coming in Economic Development. Of those 19 winners, Varga was judged by the Journal’s editorial staff to be the overall 2014 Newsmaker of the Year.

“This is shared with all our employees because to anyone who has dealt with bureaucracy, you know how hard it was,” he said. “This is a great honor and I’ll always cherish it.”

There will be no resting on his laurels, however. Varga said the next bus rapid transit line, dubbed the Laker Line, is already in the development stages and will run east and west between Grand Valley State University in Allendale and downtown Grand Rapids.

“We talked to the feds yesterday,” he told the audience. “The next system has to happen a lot faster.”

The names of the 19 winners, selected from among 54 finalists, were revealed at Wednesday’s breakfast meeting.

The winners by category were:

  • Glenn Del Vecchio, Grand Rapids Ballet, Arts and Entertainment
  • Brett VanderKamp, New Holland Brewing Co., Beverages
  • Peter Varga, The Rapid/Silver Line, Economic Development
  • Richard Pappas, Davenport University, Education
  • Sandy Jelinski, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Finance
  • Jim Gordon, Gordon Food Service, Food
  • Roger Spoelman, Mercy Health, Health Care
  • Perrin Rynders, Varnum, Law
  • Rita Woodruff and Mary Gill Thornton, Gill, Manufacturing
  • Diana Sieger, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Nonprofits
  • John Wheeler, Orion Construction, Real Estate/Construction
  • Earl Clements, Colliers International West Michigan/Centerpointe Mall, Retail
  • Mike Guswiler, West Michigan Sports Commission/Art Van Sports Complex, Sports
  • Carolyn Yarina, Gillian Henker and Katherine Kirsch, Sisu Global Health, Startups
  • Dan Nally, Holland Board of Public Works, Sustainability
  • Robert Pero, Frontier Communications, Technology

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