Gary Kirke calls it a
"chamber of commerce" investment, one that wasn't expected to pay a
big dividend, but when everything was said and done, worked out well for him
and the city of Des Moines.
Kirke, the Greater Des Moines
businessman who was a key force behind the development of Iowa's first gated
community in West Des Moines as well as the tony West Glen Town Center, was the
first person to put his money behind his faith in the region when Iowa Energy
owner Jerry Crawford made a phone call more than seven years ago to drum up
financial support for a NBA Development League basketball team.
That investment eventually led to
Crawford announcing Tuesday that the team has entered into a single-team
affiliation agreement with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and a new ownership
structure that will include Grizzlies partner Jed Kaplan, Crawford, Dr. Bill
Jacobson, who was another early investor, and his orthopedic group. Slots are
open for other local investors.
Under the affiliation, the
Grizzlies will pay for and maintain the Energy's basketball operations, while
the ownership group will be responsible for business operations and community
initiatives, according to a release.
The Energy joined the D-League
prior to the 2007-2008 season, with Crawford as the managing partner. The
organization had a knack for successful promotions that brought fans to Wells
Fargo Arena, and it was a winner. The team won the 2011 D-League Championship
and set attendance records in the process. Through the years, 10 Energy players
made the jump to the NBA.
During the 2013-2014 season, the
Energy was affiliated with five NBA teams.
But early on, it was Crawford and
Kirke, who were joined by Sheldon Ohringer, Paul Drey, Michael Richards
and Bruce Rastetter.
"I didn't think I'd make a
dime on it," Kirke said. "It was a good thing for the city of Des
The $250,000 ownership stake
ultimately "made money, but that's not the reason I invested in it,"
He pointed to other successful
sports ventures -- the Iowa Cubs minor league baseball team, the Iowa
Barnstormers Arena Football League team and the Iowa Wild hockey team -- that
brought a lot of attention to the area.
"With all the development going on
downtown, you need these kind of venues," Kirke said. It goes beyond
sports. "Wells Fargo is bringing big entertainment to town and they've
done a fantastic job," he said.