TRAVERSE CITY -- Meijer Inc.'s travails in Acme Township dominated headlines and court activity over the past year-plus, but lawsuit testimony shows the retailer's partner, the Village at Grand Traverse LLC, and its investors had more to lose and played a major role in the long Acme development saga.
Four men who comprise the Village partnership put up $2 million and borrowed another $5 million to purchase 180 acres on M-72 and Lautner Road, where they planned to develop 2.4 million-square feet of commercial space anchored by a Meijer store and rimmed by a housing project.
Steve Smith, the Village's managing partner, in sworn testimony recently said the project cost the group more than $3 million in interest and almost as much in consulting, legal and design fees.
Smith either owns or is a partner in a golf course, several bowling alleys and a chain of movie theaters, Neighborhood Cinema Group. He said he has about 500 employees in his varying business interests, but he doesn't keep an office and listed just three employees by name, according to his testimony in a lawsuit filed against the Village by former Acme Treasurer Bill Boltres.
Smith owns 40 percent of the Village, as does Jeff Anderson, who is owner and founder of Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate, Inc., a Cincinnati-based company that specializes in retail center leasing, development, construction and management.
Minority partners Jim Goss, of Acme Township, and Mike Spaniolo, of Lansing, each own 10 percent of the Village.
Spaniolo was president and Goss vice president of a Lansing-based beer and wine wholesaler they owned and eventually sold.
The Village joined Meijer in 2005 to individually sue eight Acme Township officials for financial damages in a dispute over the project's zoning. Smith testified in a deposition for Boltres' suit that he didn't know that 2005 lawsuit threatened the Acme officials' personal finances.
"I know absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt ... I have never read a single pleading," Smith said. "I left it up to the attorneys."
The village and Meijer recently settled for $1.5 million a countersuit filed by five of the Acme officials who alleged they were targeted by malicious prosecution and abuse of court process. Meijer previously paid Boltres an undisclosed sum to settle a malicious prosecution lawsuit he filed against the retailer in 2007.
Boltres' suit exposed illegal expenditures by Meijer of more than $100,000 on attorneys and a public relations firm to secretly manipulate township elections in 2005 and 2007.
Billings from the PR firm showed the Village's Goss and former Meijer Vice President of Real Estate Scott Nowakowski as the main contacts for the PR firm in the two elections.
Smith in his deposition contended Goss acted as a private individual in those elections, and not as a representative of the Village.