Diversity Important In Downtown

June 22, 2004
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In the plethora of strong development reports and economic good news reported in Grand Rapids Business Journal this week is a watchword to be heeded: Inclusiveness. It comes from the co-president of the Heartside Neighborhood Association.

A housing market report from New Jersey consultants to the Downtown Development Authority estimates that if 350 housing units were built each year for the next five years, just 15 percent of the potential downtown housing market would be satisfied. The consultants estimate, based on surveys, the potential market could reach 2,500 households in five years, three-fourths of the demand from residents of Kent County, of which the majority would be young single individuals or young couples; 23 percent would come from other states. “Empty nesters” create the second largest group looking for a downtown address.

The growth of the Heartside area, particularly as an entertainment center, is reported in the story accompanying “Who Owns Downtown.”

Heartside Neighborhood Association co-president William Holmes, however, worries that the current development is not catering to the lower income component of the neighborhood, and fears that gentrification of the area will spur departure of long-time residents, creating greater concern for homelessness and housing affordability.

That said, initiatives that help address those concerns and the creativity of such nonprofit groups as Dwelling Place Inc already create opportunities upon which to build. Dwelling Place is creating less “homogenous” housing options with a 35-unit project on Division, and it serves as a catalyst for the Avenue of the Arts project, which will provide affordable living and work space.

This area in particular is one that appeals to the “cool cities” urban resident. It is equally important to note that in the list of characteristics of these individuals, “diversity” (ethnic and economic) and tolerance are high priorities.

Yet another type of diversity is represented in a business plan for a potential third “adult entertainment” club in downtown. The birth of that business plan has been created by the success of the downtown entertainment district. Sensations owner Mark London told the Business Journal the plan for a “Vegas-style,” high-end club was customer driven. “My customers keep saying things like, ‘I wish you were downtown. I had a meeting with my buddies and we were looking for someplace to go downtown and we’d have loved to go to your place but it was too far away.’ I kept hearing that sort of comment over and over,” London said, adding evidence of the long-sought change: “People are just going downtown now. With few exceptions, everybody is suffering other than the downtown area. All the bars and restaurants outside of the downtown area are now really hurting because people are so ingrained to go downtown.”

While adult entertainment has not been a welcome addition to the landscape in any metro area neighborhood, one cannot quibble with the demonstrated demand of the customer base, predominately also local.

Downtown’s balance is likely to be maintained by the varied and successful nonprofit agencies that have been an integral part of the growth and creative building use to date, and are likely to continue.           

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