Secchia led, mentored in downtown GR success

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There was Peter Secchia, political activist. Peter Secchia, diplomat. Peter Secchia, philanthropist.

Then there was Peter Secchia, civic leader.

Secchia died Wednesday morning, surrounded by family.

“A huge loss. We’ve lost a giant today.” says longtime friend Steve Heacock.

As member of Grand Action, Heacock, had a front-row seat to Secchia’s involvement in the success of downtown Grand Rapids.

It was not an uncommon sight to see Secchia at a dedication downtown.

But his involvement in projects like Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place went well beyond ground breakings and ribbon cuttings.

Secchia was known for coming up with ideas and seeing them through.

“He was somebody with this phenomenal vision of the future that was always positive and always forward-looking and very optimistic about, particularly, the future of Grand Rapids. And then he would go make it happen,” Heacock said.

“You think about other cities where there’s individuals who have had success. Here, those individuals all got together and decided to get something done. That’s because of leaders like Peter Secchia,” Heacock continued.

And that effort continues today with a new generation of leaders.

Heacock is president and CEO of White Water Grand Rapids, the organization working to restore rapids to the Grand River downtown.

“You think about the ribbon that the river is through the middle of the city and yet we basically had put backs to it for years,” Heacock said of the effort to make the Grand River the focal point in the latest downtown revitalization effort.

Heacock says the effort to make that vision a reality started with men like Secchia. 

You can see it in the big, transformational projects like the arena and convention center.

There were substantial financial investments by Secchia and others, often in the form of millions of dollars in seed money to get projects off the ground.

But it was more than writing checks.

It was about seeing a vision to completion.

And while Grand Rapids has lost yet another icon with that vision, Secchia provided a kind of mentorship to men like Heacock.

And hope that future generations will be able to carry on the work Secchia and others started.

“He was stunningly accessible,” Heacock said. “He was the kinds of guy that you’re sitting with him and he’d put his arm around your neck and pull you close or sit and hold your hand. He just connected at a level to everybody.”