Merchant thinks time may be right for cultural/convention center

TO DO LIST—A 4,000-year-old merchant’s list on baked clay bears a striking resemblance to a modern ipod. Dale Robertson of the Grand Rapids Public Museum spoke to Rockford Rotary on the value of museums to a community. He is pictured with Floyd Havemeier.

TO DO LIST—A 4,000-year-old merchant’s list on baked clay bears a striking resemblance to a modern ipod. Dale Robertson of the Grand Rapids Public Museum spoke to Rockford Rotary on the value of museums to a community. He is pictured with Floyd Havemeier.

by BETH ALTENA

With changes guaranteed to come to downtown with the closing of the Wolverine tannery, one Rockford merchant has a vision he believes would benefit Rockford.

Herman’s Boy’s Floyd Havemeier is an idea guy, and he believes now may be the right timing for consideration of an arts and convention center for Rockford.

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“People have a yearning for nostalgia and history and we have such a rich history here,” Havemeier said. He believes a center with room for art shows, musical performances and historic and art displays would draw crowds. He also believes such a facility could be self-supporting.

Havemeier is also willing to  put some money where his mouth is and said he is in a position to purchase a 100-year-old carousel he would donate.

At a recent Rotary meeting, members of the Rockford Historical Society were invited to hear from Dale Robertson, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. He told the audience that museums offer much to communities and can be a boon to business and residents.

He said, although museums  rarely pay for themselves, they are an attractant. In 2007 museums brought in $2.2 billion in revenue to Kent County.

Rockford already has a beautiful small museum located by the dam in a historic building (without water or plumbing). It is staffed by volunteers from the Rockford Historical Society. At one time an expansion was planned at a cost of $700,000, but funding was unavailable.

Havemeier hopes for a center that could house the Historic Society, but much more. “A town that sells its history sells itself,” Havemeier stated. He said Rockford should and could promote the town’s lumber heritage, Indian heritage, shoe and tanning history as well as the arts.

He pointed out the town is home to a world-class duck carver, nationally-known artists, and could do better promoting fishing and outdoor activities.

He believes the proximity of Rockford to Grand Rapids would make it an ideal day trip to any number of organizations.

Visits could be educational or for entertainment, as in concerts. “Tie it all up with a day shopping on the town,” he suggested.

City Manger Michael Young said the concept is nice, but would be expensive. “We looked into this for the Northland Pontiac building and the cost to remodel that was a million dollars,” he said. “Funding of government is in crisis right now, so where would the money come from to build it? Then you’d have to staff it.”  He can’t see it as something the City could consider, financially.

Young said the City already has a great historical museum and neither the Arts Commission or the Historical Society would be likely able to take on a project of that magnitude.

Havemeier hopes that someone may share his enthusiasm for this vision and find a way to make it happen.

“I’m concerned when I see people open a business and put their hopes and dreams and savings into it and fail,” he said. He believes the influx of visitors to a cultural center would benefit all and there would plenty of interest.

With the beautiful downtown, river and a center to highlight Rockfords arts, artists and history, people would travel-and pay-to visit such a center, Havemeier insists. “We have a lot to offer,” he said.

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