Grand Rapids

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Update 3:15 p.m.

The co-founder of the West Michigan Whitecaps is confident the Fifth Third Ballpark will reopen in time for baseball in April. It appears the fire damaged about a dozen luxury box suites, part of the clubhouse, some storage area and probably the control room too. West Michigan Whitecaps co-founder Denny Baxter told reporters during a press conference he’s confident the ballpark will be available on opening day, although there’s a good chance it won’t be completely rebuilt by then. There were no reported injuries because of the fire.

Reported 12 p.m.

A fire was reported shortly after 11 a.m. today at the Fifth Third Ballpark, a few miles north of Grand Rapids in Plainfield Township.

The smoke was thick enough to be seen from Gerald R. Ford International Airport, and to be picked up by National Weather Service radar.

U.S. 131 runs right by the stadium, which can hold close to 10,000 people. The ballpark opened in 1994.

The stadium is home to the West Michigan Whitecaps baseball team, a Detroit Tigers’ Single A affiliate. The ballpark is also the venue for numerous concerts and events throughout the year, including the Michigan Brewers Guild’s annual Winter Beer Festival set for early next month.

Scott Graham, Executive Director of Michigan Brewers Guild issued this statement about the popular festival.

"The Michigan Brewers Guild is certainly concerned about our upcoming beer festival at the Fifth Third Ballpark but our first concern is for all of our friends at the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our thoughts and prayers are with the staff at the ballpark today and we will assess what it means to the Guild after the damage is under control and can be assessed. Because our event is held outside the ballpark in the parking lot we are hopeful that it will turn out well. We will do our best to keep fans of MI beer informed in coming days as we learn more."

Here are some images of the fire:

The ball park is in Comstock Park, Michigan. This from MLive.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - A federal judge in Iowa has dismissed a Michigan couple's lawsuit that claimed butter flavorings in microwave popcorn left the husband with lung disease.

U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett ruled Tuesday that Michigan's three-year statute of limitations barred the lawsuit brought by David and Barbara Stults of Grand Rapids.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan air travelers could see some changes with the merger of American Airlines and US Airways.

The merger creating the world's largest airline became official today.  But the new American Airlines has relatively few flights flying into and out of six Michigan airports.   

Michael Conway is a spokesman for Detroit Metro Airport.  He says the newly merged airline carries only about 6.6% of passengers flying out of Detroit.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

If you’re having a hard time finding a home to buy right now, you are not alone.  The supply of houses for sale in many markets across the state are hitting near all-time lows.

Interest rates remain low, but there are not enough homes available to meet the demand.

“In most recent history I can’t recall ever being in a market like this,” said Terry Westbrook, president of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors.  He’s been selling homes in Grand Rapids for 40 years.

The supply of homes in Grand Rapids hasn’t been this small in a decade.

Matthew Kanable / Creative Commons

Tonight is the biggest bar night of the year, with many people visiting family and friends back home in Michigan. It’s a crowd employers in West Michigan are trying to reach. So they’re getting creative with their tactics.

Cindy Brown is executive director of Hello West Michigan. It’s a group made up of more than 40 businesses is trying to lure professionals back to the state.

Grand Rapids Whitewater

The preliminary plan to restore the rapids to a two-mile stretch of the Grand River is out. It’s the first real look Grand Rapids has gotten at the proposed project.

Grand Rapids will appoint a task force to take a deeper look at how it should regulate people who want to rent out rooms in their homes on popular websites like Airbnb. The websites allow people to rent out a guest room or just their couch for a night or two.

Technically it's illegal in Grand Rapids. The city commission was considering adopting regulations to allow them. But many people renting space said the city fees and taxes wouldn’t be worth the money.

Lisa Beth Anderson

A non-profit group in Grand Rapids is re-energizing its effort to get people who are homeless into permanent homes.

Well House has been around since the late 1970s. About a year ago, the non-profit emergency homeless shelter Well House was in danger of closing. That’s when its new executive director Tami VandenBerg pushed the group to switch gears and provide permanent homes instead.

Update 11/20/13: This week Grand Rapids City Commission voted to create a task force to study this issue deeper. See this new post for updated information.

The growing number of people renting out a room or just a couch in their homes on websites like airbnb.com has some cities considering how these set-ups should fit into local zoning regulations, business permits and taxes.

Voters in Detroit go to the polls tomorrow, and no matter who gets elected to be that city's next Mayor, crime will be one of the problems they'll have to tackle. On today's show, we looked past the city's financial struggles to curbing the violence in Detroit.

 And, we found out about a "flipped school" - one of the first in the nation. Students watch lectures at night and do homework during the day in class.  And, a Grand Rapids park millage will take park funding out of the city's general fund. We spoke with one of the supports of the millage to find out why voters should consider it. Also, a Canadian photographer found beauty in the ruins of Detroit. He joined us to talk about his exhibit. 

First on the show, one of the most emotionally charged issues in Michigan in 2013 has been wolves.

After teetering on the brink of extinction, the gray wolf population has rebounded so much so that earlier this year, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law that allows a first-ever state wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

That historic hunt begins November 15.

Forty-three wolves can be shot in three UP zones where officials say they have the most problems.

During the legislative debate on the wolf hunt, lawmakers from the UP spoke with passion about the "fear" their constituents had of the wolves, worrying for the safety of livestock, pets, even small children.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody spoke with the point man on wolves for the DNR. Adam Bump told Steve that wolves had become very accustomed to life in Ironwood.

"So you have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding glass doors, while they're pounding on it, exhibiting no fear."

But an MLive investigation into the historic wolf hunt raises some serious questions about the debate, about claims made by opponents, and about the DNR's Bump.

John Barnes is reporting on this for MLive in a series called "Crying Wolf," and he joined us today.

Facebook

Election day 2013 is a big day for those who want to see better parks in Grand Rapids.

A coalition is hoping to get voters to approve a dedicated millage for city parks.

The millage campaign has raised the conversation: just what do people want in their city? And how much are they willing to pay to have a good park system?

Steve Faber is the executive director of the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and he's a member of "Neighbors for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds," the citizen advocacy group proposing this millage. He joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The first of 1,600 homes in Flint fell to a backhoe today.

The Genesee County Land Bank and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority are using a $20.1 million federal grant to pay for the largest blighted home demolition program in Flint’s history.

The program is expected to eliminate a quarter of Flint’s 5,600 abandoned homes. 

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling says tearing down a derelict home has a positive effect on the surrounding neighborhood. 

“When dangerous houses come down, surrounding property values stabilize.  Safety increases,’ says Walling.

Brian D. Hawkins / Creative Commons

Two men who successfully fought the state's panhandling law after being arrested in Grand Rapids in 2011 for panhandling will each get more than $6,000 as part of a $48,000 settlement with the city.

Judges on the 6th circuit court of appeals called the state law prohibiting panhandling unconstitutional, because it was overly broad and infringed on the right to free speech.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Updated 12p.m.

This morning,  Grand Rapids businessman Brian Ellis told supporters he’s challenging Congressman Justin Amash (R-Grand Rapids) because Amash “has failed to advance a conservative agenda.”

“This race is about a district that expects and deserves to be represented by a true social and fiscal conservative” Ellis said.

It only took thirty seconds for Ellis to mention his rival.

“I’m standing here today because I have very different views from Justin Amash,” Ellis said.

It turns out Ellis and Amash have some similar views. They both are not fans of the new health care law, both think the federal government needs to get its spending under control, and they’re both pro-life.

But Ellis says Amash doesn’t vote like the principled conservative he claims to be.

“Well anybody can say, like Justin, that he’s conservative, but he has a voting record and it doesn’t line up,” Ellis explained to reporters after his announcement.

Ellis points to a few of times Amash voted “present.” One bill would’ve defunded Planned Parenthood and another would’ve backed the Keystone Pipeline. Ellis also pointed out that Amash voted against conservative budgets for the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years and against the Small Business Tax Cut Act.

Amash, as usual, defends his votes on these and other bills on his Facebook page.

Ellis says he’d act on his conservative principles and would be a better collaborator in Washington than Amash.

“I’ve had to build consensus through the years in my time on the school board. I worked very hard at that. And so we were able to move forward even when we have differences of opinion and I’m proud of that,” Ellis said.

Ellis owns an investment firm and served on the East Grand Rapids school board for fourteen years.

East Grand Rapids schools Superintendent Sara Shubel says she came out to support Ellis as a friend.

Shubel says Amash doesn’t seem to be able to get things done.

“I do not see (Amash) as a collaborator and I do see Brian and I’ve engaged with him for many years on multiple levels and he has the ability to compromise which is a very important skill that you’re going to have to have in this position,” Shubel said.

Shubel says Ellis is passionate about having quality public education for all students and understands what districts are struggling with.

Amash was not available to comment on this story.

 

Posted 10:45a.m.

An investment firm manager will challenge Congressman Justin Amash in the Republican primary next year.

Brian Ellis announced his candidacy Tuesday among supporters at a hotel in Grand Rapids.

In a written statement, Ellis said Amash has “turned back on conservative principles.”

“Congressman Justin Amash has turned his back on our conservative principles by voting against the Paul Ryan Budget that would cut spending by $5 trillion, and against a 20% tax cut for small businesses,” Brian Ellis said.

“Congressman Amash refused to vote in favor of the Keystone Pipeline and he even voted to allow our tax dollars to fund America’s largest abortion provider.”

Ellis is president and founder of the investment firm Brooktree Capital Management, and has served on the East Grand Rapids Board of Education.

In a piece Ellis wrote for MLive today, he expanded on why he supports the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

You're not alone, billboard tells nonreligious

Oct 6, 2013
Center for Inquiry

A billboard alongside a highway in western Michigan is spreading the message that religion is something people can live without.

The billboard went up Monday and is to remain in place through Oct. 27 along U.S.-131 in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

It's sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and carries the message "Millions of Americans are living happily without religion."

ArtPrize.org

Update 11:15 p.m.

A giant quilt depicting the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore won the top prize in the Grand Rapids-based ArtPrize competition Friday night.

Ann Loveless, of Frankfort Michigan, made the quilt.

Past ArtPrize winners have included paintings, pencil drawings, and mosaics. This year’s is a super detailed quilt that looks like a photo of a fabulous sunset at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s 20 feet wide and 5 feet tall.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

When a veteran comes home from war with an obvious injury, like a missing arm, they know they'll have to talk about it.

Some vets get so used to telling that war wound story, it becomes almost routine.

What’s harder to talk about, and to understand, are the invisible injuries.

That's why a nonprofit called Fashion Has Heart is pairing wounded vets with graphic designers.

Together, they create t-shirts and combat boots that reflect each vet's experience.

And right now they’re on display at ArtPrize, where anybody can buy - and wear - the results.

Artprize

Hundreds of people flooded downtown Grand Rapids over the weekend to hear the top 10 finalists of this year’s ArtPrize announced.

More than 1,500 works of art, with more than 160 venues, and 47 countries represented. Those are just a few statistics of this year's ArtPrize in Grand Rapids opening today with some 400,000 expected visitors to the city. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith was on the scene, and we spoke to her as well as the new Executive Director of ArtPrize.

And, Congressman Justin Amash has decided not to run for U.S. senate. What does this decision mean for the rest of the candidates?

The University of Michigan announced earlier that they will now offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. We talked with Serena Davila, the executive director for Legislative Affairs for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, about what this means for the students.

Also, how well are health care systems in the U.S. working? A new report by the Commonwealth Fund gave us some answers.

And, the small town of Colon in southwest Michigan has been dubbed the “Magic Capital of the World.” We spoke with one resident to find out why that is.

First on the show, our weekly check-in with Detroit News Business Columnist Daniel Howes. And, on the front-burner? The mediation talks between Detroit's Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and dozens and dozens of lawyers representing the city's creditors. Howes joined us to tell us more about the mediation.

artprize.org

Today was the opening day for ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. And this year, ArtPrize has a new executive director, Christian Gaines. He was formerly with the American Film Institute and IMDB.com.

Christian Gaines joined us today from Grand Rapids to talk about this new position and what the event means for the city.

Listen to the full interview above.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Alright, Michigan art lovers, it is time.

ArtPrize opened today, and for the next 19 days downtown Grand Rapids will be crammed with art from all over the world, and we the public get to decide which artist is going to win the $200,000 top prize.

This is an art show that Time magazine called one of 5 festive events you won’t want to miss in 2013, and as you might expect, Grand Rapids is buzzing.

Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter Lindsey Smith joined us today from Grand Rapids to talk about the show. 

Listen to the full interview above.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Can a Michigan investment fund make big money by investing only in mid-size Michigan companies?

That’s the idea behind the Michigan Prosperity Fund.

It’s the brainchild of Michigan native Martin Stein, founder and CEO of private equity firm Blackford Capital.

Stein previously based Blackford out of LA, but says he started noticing a trend: about 70% of the companies he invested in were in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

“So, on the business side, it made a lot of sense for us to be closer to where we were investing in companies,” says Stein.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Art is popping up like mushrooms in downtown Grand Rapids. That’s because ArtPrize kicks off this week.

The big winner of the art competition is decided by the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the event and vote. But there are juried awards too. In all more than $500,000 in prize money is up for grabs.

Norman Wilder has been painting an 18-foot long, 10-foot high mural on the outside wall of a risk management company since last Wednesday.

Bell's Brewery coming to Grand Rapids airport

Sep 15, 2013
bellsbeer.com

A popular Kalamazoo craft beer brewer will open a location soon in the Grand Rapids area.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A coalition in Grand Rapids wants voters to approve a dedicated millage for city parks in November.

The campaign to get people to vote for the millage kicked off in an abandoned wading pool at a city park. It’s not safe anymore and will be torn up this fall. There’s no money to replace it.

Jenn Gavin watches her three year old, Milo, playing on the other side of a chain-link fence around the empty pool. She says they walk to this park regularly.

localfirst.com

When it's time to buy something, what's your pattern? Do you head to the big chain store thinking you might save a little bit? Or do you try to take your business and your money to a local business?

Elissa Hillary hopes you think "local first."

"When you are supporting a locally owned business, 73% more money stays in the community and recirculates, and that money goes to create jobs to fund our tax base, to support our infrastructure, and schools and roads and things like that," said Hillary.

She heads up Local First. It’s a Grand Rapids-based group with a mission to get us all to keep our local businesses and merchants top of mind when we go shopping.

She joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Bryan Frank Photography

Vendors are preparing for a flood of people as the new Downtown Market opens up tomorrow in Grand Rapids.

Community leaders hope the giant new indoor market will become a year-round regional attraction.

The smell of fresh apple pie from the hot pink Sweetie-licious bakery is the first thing you notice inside the new Downtown Market. It’s one of Linda Hunt’s national award-winning pies made with Michigan apples.

Hunt’s small bakery in DeWitt makes more than homemade pies. They make “snickerdoodles” or “whoopee-pies,” and cupcakes among other things.

“Pretty much everything here is awesome,” Hunt said.

The Pentagon is proposing to cut back production of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. We looked at what that could mean for the Michigan companies that make parts for the Bradley.

And, who wins and who loses when a major freeway is widened through urban neighborhoods?

And we looked at the local food scene in Grand Rapids to see just how food builds a sense of place.

Also, a dead zone has developed in Green Bay. What is causing it and is there anything we can do to fix it?

First on the show, There's been lots to celebrate in terms of sales for the U.S. car makers, bouncing back in a big way from their near-death experiences.

But those strong sales have the auto companies and their suppliers boosting production at a fast rate. And that could be having an unwanted effect---declining customer satisfaction with the vehicles they're turning out.

Claes Fornell, founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, joined us today to talk about the latest survey results.

Clagett Farm CSA Week 10 / thebittenworld.com

Let’s talk food. Delicious, fresh, healthy, local food.

That is the mission of Lisa Rose Starner, to get as many of us as possible to eat local. And there’s plenty of that happening in Grand Rapids, from community gardens to microbreweries to food entrepreneurs and artisans and so much more. Lisa was invited to tell the many stories of the Grand Rapids local food scene and the result is her book “Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution."

Lisa Rose Starner joined us today from the WGVU studios in Grand Rapids. 

Listen to the full interview above.

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