Attorney/urban activist wins prestigious Worsfold award

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Jack L.Hoffman sits in his beautiful office at Kuiper Orlebeke.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Kuiper Orlebeke’s Jack Hoffman exemplifies the melding of personal activism with day-to-day action that attains the highest levels of achievement in the legal profession.

As the 2011 winner of the Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award, Hoffman acknowledges that he is lucky to be working in an atmosphere where recognition of such community benefit is the norm. And, as he stated in his acceptance speech, his colleagues make it so much easier.

“I really am grateful to all the members of the Bar Association,” he repeated in a later interview. “They create an environment where you can do meaningful work but you can still earn a living — practice your profession and still have time to make a contribution.”

Hoffman’s contributions over the years are almost too many to list, but they stem from a love for urban living and a realization that keeping cities vital is critical to the health of the country.

He started out involved with historic preservation, for which he credits his wife, Rebecca Smith-Hoffman. She has been a proponent for many years and currently has a historic preservation consulting business called Past Perfect.

Hoffman served six years on the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission, four of them as chair, and six years as a director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.

Living in Heritage Hill, he was involved in the struggle to have that neighborhood declared a Historic Preservation District.  “In the last 20 to 30 years we went through a lot of fights, but I think now most people would say that historic preservation is an essential part of the revitalization of Grand Rapids. It’s moved from this group of outsiders saying, ‘What are you doing?’ to being almost institutionalized.”

His practice has allowed him to take or participate in cases which have moved historic preservation forward, either through advocacy for not tearing down buildings or through the more positive action he prefers: supporting such clients as Dwelling Place, the Inner City Christian Federation, and Genesis in rehabilitation and reuse of historic buildings.

Hoffman continues, “Then that work kind of opened my eyes. Why are all these buildings going down, why are we tearing down all these beautiful places?” He started reading all the books and articles he could get his hands on, and made the connection that sprawl into suburban areas was hurting cities everywhere.

How to combat that? Hoffman thinks that strengthening and revitalizing the city and maintaining a high quality of life is critical in retaining and attracting population, thereby keeping buildings from demolition and helping eliminate a number of other societal ills. He became, he says, a New Urbanist.
Not one to confine his activity to just thinking, Hoffman has thrown himself into a plethora of activities designed to make Grand Rapids more “livable” and attractive.

He was a member of the 2000 Grand Rapids Master Plan Revision Committee and served as its chair until the revised master plan’s adoption in 2002. He is on the Green Grand Rapids Committee and chaired that from 2007 to 2009. He is a member of the Downtown development Authority framework steering committee. He worked with the John Ball Park Neighborhood Association on preserving John Ball Park when it was threatened by development, and with the North Park neighbors on preserving the historic North Park Bridge. He has been on the Grand Rapids Parking Commission for eight years, six of them as chair.

He has worked on revitalization projects in the East Hills neighborhood, including such projects as the Inner City Christian Federation building and the East Hills Center, in addition to Green Well Restaurant and the townhouses near it. Hoffman confesses he was completely perplexed by the recent controversy surrounding the redevelopment. “The last threat  targeted the new townhouses, but that didn’t force anyone out of their homes; that was a parking lot, they tore down those houses in the 1950s.” He observes, acknowledging that it’s a cliché, that the crisis seems to have brought the neighborhood closer together.

He was a long-time board member of St. Andrews School where his daughter attended, which he regarded as “a model urban school for racial and income diversity and educational excellence.” He and his wife fought the diocese in having it torn down, but “we lost that one.”

His latest foray into the public arena has been as part of the Interurban Transportation Partnership or ITP, which oversees the Rapid and took over from GRATA (Grand Rapids Area Transit Authority). He worked hard to have the recent millage passed.

Hoffman comments, “It’s now our responsibility to implement our plan and I do believe that when people see the results of the millage — we have five years now to make our impression on the community — I think people will be positive about the millage.”

But Hoffman’s practice is not limited to matters that move forward his own commitments. “It’s nice not to  have all your eggs in one basket,” he comments. His biography lists his major areas of practice as insurance and real estate, including tax credit financing and historic preservation and planning issues, but he says recently he has taken some cases representing insurance companies against fraudulent claims against health care providers, and is doing some estate work as well as other general civil litigation.

A native of Grand Rapids, he graduated from Creston High School and went on to get his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from U of M School of Law in 1976.

All the attorneys who formed Kuiper Orlebeke PC, which took the names of Tom Kuiper and Tim Orlebeke, left Wheeler Upham five or six years ago. Grand Rapids Magazine’s Readers Choice Poll named Kuiper Orlebeke its 2010-2011 Best Law Firm, a big honor for a relatively new firm.

It is clear that Hoffman greatly admires Tim Orlebeke, who returned the favor by nominating him for the Worsfold Award. Hoffman adds that another strong mentor and influence has been John Logie, the former mayor of Grand Rapids.

“We live a couple blocks from the Logies and have been friends with them for a long long time. He’s a great historic preservationist and did the legal work for the Heritage Hill Historic District designation.”

Hoffman says he is concerned about the state historic preservation tax incentives being abolished, but there are still Federal incentives in place.

About the award he says, “I was touched by it, touched by Tim’s nomination and remarks,  and it was a special honor to be recognized by the Bar.”