Its CountOurCommunityBlessings Time

September 3, 2002
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A good many years have passed since the citizens of Grand Rapids read of their town as being “blighted,” “crime-ridden,” “dysfunctional” or as having a “deserted downtown environment.” Such were among the fashionable terms that columnists in nearly all cities employed with relish from the late ’60s through the ’80s — and that the TV people echoed from their perches nightly like so many wide-eyed parrots.

And it all came back in a rush last week when we stumbled upon a so-called news analysis from the Cincinnati Inquirer. The writer wondered plaintively whether Cincinnati’s downtown ever could attract suburbanites again after this summer’s race riots and an ethnic-party-turned-brawl two weekends ago.

The writer worried in print that with so much for people to do in the suburbs, there’s just no reason to go downtown — especially if, in the bargain, you stand the chance of being robbed or beaten within an inch of your life.

In the context of Grand Rapids, that kind of article almost seems like an obscure collector’s item, an antique from the archives of journalism in a different world. Now, to be sure, downtown Grand Rapids this week has its usual unsightly snarl of detours, earth movers and dusty hardhats moving with grim intensity about their work.

But though the detours are a hassle for drivers, these are the exciting kinds of messes heralding revitalization and redevelopment and that also unleash more investment and developmental energy.

Prime examples of what the future holds are reported in this edition’s Focus section. The prospect of having lots of convention-goers downtown has led to an exciting new proposal to extend the already-friendly and attractive Ionia entertainment district. And The Intersection nightclub reports it already has begun booking acts for the venue’s new home on nearby Grandville Avenue, even though it won’t relocate there from Eastown until autumn arrives.

Meanwhile, Gregory Gilmore — who teamed with his father to take a big gamble on downtown by developing The BOB a few years ago — welcomes such enterprises near his turf even though they will compete for business with his interests. Right now, as he puts it, there just isn’t enough downtown Grand Rapids to serve large numbers of convention-goers when they start asking the hotel concierges where they can find some action.

In brief, it seems as if downtown GR is in the forefront of the renaissance that has eluded so many other cities. Not that we really have to say it, but Grand Rapids is a city that works.

Now obviously, there are several very important reasons why this town is working so well and building so energetically.

One is that it is a community with a work ethic that won’t quit, no matter what.

Another is a set of political leaders who have maintained their focus on a long-term vision for the community.

Perhaps the most important set of reasons for Grand Rapids’ success are several families who have earned fortunes and then invested those fortunes in this town. The BOB likely wouldn’t exist, The Intersection wouldn’t be moving downtown, and the dream of an Arena District on Ionia wouldn’t be feasible were it not for the Van Andel Arena. And city and county executives wouldn’t be conducting Calder hotel negotiations were it not for the emerging DeVos Place.

We all know that long list of family names, running from A to Z. Such families are chief among Grand Rapids’ many blessings.           

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