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 Moines."

 

The $250,000 ownership stake ultimately "made money, but that's not the reason I invested in it," Kirke said.

 

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.