Grand Rapids Getting Cooler Uptown

August 13, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS —The Uptown Advisory Council accepted a hefty grant from the state Tuesday for business façade improvements, the redevelopment of a two-acre, former brownfield site at the corner of Diamond Avenue and Lake Drive — a site East Hills neighbors fondly refer to as the Center of the Universe.

The $100,000 grant is part of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's Cool City pilot program. It was one of two Grand Rapids pilot projects among 20 Cool City projects in Michigan to be awarded $100,000 grants. The governor announced grant winners in June.

The project includes construction of a LEED-certified, five-unit retail and office development of sustainable, "green" building design, featuring zero storm water discharge, a vegetative roof garden, a rain garden, reduced-heat and island-effect passive solar design strategies, and an environmental energy demonstration center.

In addition to construction of the new building, some grant funds will be used toward a façade improvement program for historic commercial buildings and for way-finding signs in the area.

Philip Chaffee, co-chair of the Cherry/Lake/Diamond Business Association, said $30,000 would be applied to the facade program and dispersed in grants of about $2,000 each.

On top of the grant, Chaffee said, Uptown will have access to a "resource toolbox" that includes more than 75 of the state's community improvement grant, loan and assistance programs.

Uptown is comprised of four neighborhoods — East Hills, Baxter, Eastown and Midtown — and encompasses four business districts: Cherry/Lake/Diamond, East Fulton, Eastown and Wealthy Street.

Guy Bazzani, president and CEO of Bazzani Associates, is lead developer for the project. He has completed three similar green building projects in Grand Rapids. Bazzani described the project as environmentally sensitive, socially responsible and economically viable.

"This is the future of development in our community," he told a crowd gathered at the Wealthy Street Theatre Tuesday. "The design respects the historic context of the neighborhood by reflecting the local architecture. And by selling the individual storefronts to local businesses, we stabilize the community through pride of ownership."

Mayor George Heartwell commended the business organizations, neighborhood groups and community foundations that have joined together to make the Uptown project happen. More than 17 entities are involved.

"'Cool' is collaboration. 'Cool' is working together," Heartwell said.

Representing the governor, Kara Wood, a community assistance team specialist with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., similarly praised the Uptown partners for their "spirit of collaboration."

Rachel "Uptown Girl" Lee, Uptown Advisory Council staff, and Mark Rumsey, co-chair, accepted the $100,000 check on behalf of the council.

Lee described Uptown as "a unique urban village."

"The area combines opportunities for housing, education, entertainment and dining with business start-ups, creating a sustainable live-work-play environment in a walkable community setting," she said.

She touted Uptown's diverse neighborhoods, as well.

Bazzani, who both lives and works in Uptown, agreed.

"We have the most diverse, walkable community in Grand Rapids. It's a joy to live here," he said.    

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