Enough Rooms For All

    Smoke is emanating from downtown backrooms, clouding from public view the details of the deals related to development of hotel rooms to accommodate the new DeVos Place convention center opening. And that may be the only item about which the community is clear in what has certainly been declared a war between development interests.

    Blue Bridge Ventures’ Jack Buchanan has been working on a plan to bring another hotel to downtown for more than eight years. The proposed 24-story, 400-room convention hotel designed by Los Angeles architect Richard Keating would force relocation of the city and county buildings, an adventure for which the developers have prepared, working with city hall staff on the details.

    The Blue Bridge project discussion in city council chambers began anew in July. In October businessman Peter Secchia sold his interest in the Olds Manor to Amway/Alticor co-founders Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel. While the two long-time business partners have not indicated plans for the property, city councilmen suddenly began discussing the possibility of moving the adjacent U.S. Postal Service processing plant, adjacent to the Olds.

    On Halloween, State Sen. Glenn Steil, R-Grand Rapids, an announced candidate for the mayor’s office in ’03, took time from state election contests to announce he is opposing a proposed law — that he co-sponsored — which would allow cities and counties to buy property on installment loans that extend up to 30 years rather than the current 15 years. In fact, Steil told news reporters he intends “to kill it.”

    It is certain Steil will begin raising funds for his planned run for mayor, and that the DeVos family is sincere in backing Republican candidates.

    Even if the DeVos family were able to influence federal approval to move the Post Office at a time of a national economic downturn and a moratorium on all new post office buildings, the community is owed an explanation and some detail of why. Is there a plan? What is it?

    One also has to ask, if the Grand Action Committee and convention center planners are certain that more than 1,000 additional rooms will be needed to serve the convention business with proximity to the center, why would there not be room for more than one project? Turning the city/county property into a complex earning the city income taxes and county motel-hotel taxes while filling vacant buildings to accommodate the two governmental entities is a winning proposition for all involved.

    The recent maneuvers curse the excitement and anticipation of the convention center project, sullied by the appearance of improprieties, and speculation about those improprieties will only escalate in perception. Should it be determined that a hotel monopoly is being created among pol buddies, it is the height of greed in a year overwhelmed by such headlines (even as Grand Rapids business leaders have repeatedly said such moral breaches of character are unlikely to occur in this community).

    Grand Rapids is undoubtedly soaring to new heights. Each project funded by the DeVos and Van Andel families has been of unquestionable quality and performance. If there are more plans than meet the eye, it is high time to say so, and allow public discussion. To continue the smoke screen is unbecoming, unsettling and a hypocrisy of legendary proportion. It will not be forgotten.           

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