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Grand Rapids Seen As Cooley City
GRAND RAPIDS — While the state has been urging urban centers to become "cool" cities, the Neighborhood Business Alliance (NBA) took that appeal a step further last week by making Grand Rapids a "Cooley" city.
At its 15th annual ceremony to honor the city's neighborhood businesses last Thursday, the alliance awarded its prestigious Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Prize to the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The new law school at 111 Commerce Ave. SW was cited for the economic promise it brings to the Heartside Business District and for having the ability to draw much sought-after professionals to downtown.
"Having a law school in Grand Rapids not only helps Heartside, it's great for Heartside. But I think it will do something for the larger community in regards to not only retaining, but attracting people to our urban core," said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program, an arm of the NBA.
The Cooley Law Center is a five-story, 100,000-square-foot structure that has a 20,000-square-foot library, two computer labs and electronic classrooms, four other classrooms, seven study rooms, two breakout rooms, and the Cyber Café. The school is a major part of the urban renaissance that is going on in Heartside.
Ed De Vries, a residential and commercial real estate developer and co-owner of De Vries Properties, earned the NBA's other major honor: the John H. Logie Neighborhood Business Champion Award. De Vries was named for having a longtime positive impact on a number of business districts through his historic building renovations, while being an active member in the Monroe North Business District and a catalyst behind the effort to beautify downtown and surrounding districts.
"He is always willing to give of himself and his time to help get things organized and make things happen. And he is willing to take on the tough projects," said Evoy.
De Vries is currently investing nearly $5 million to renovate the vacant Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant into commercial space and apartments. The former city-owned plant is at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW in the Creston Business District. Aldrich Place, on Monroe Center, and Landmark Lofts, in the North Monroe district, are just two of his most recent success stories.
"Ed has been an inspiration in what he has done, " said Evoy.
De Vries is the second recipient of the business champion award. The initial honor went to its namesake, former three-term mayor John Logie, last year. Cooley Law was the fourth winner of the Helmholdt prize, also named in honor of a former mayor and business owner, the late Gerald Helmholdt. Swift Printing Co., Pioneer Construction and the Huizen family's downtown furniture store, EQ3, were previous Helmholdt honorees.
The NBA awarded 10 other first-place honors to 11 winners at its 2004 celebration held in the Loosemore Auditorium in the Richard M. DeVos Center at Grand Valley State University (see related story). Mayor George Heartwell presented the awards and NBA President Leigh VanderMolen guided the festivities.
"We are proud of our 15-year history of honoring neighborhood business, and we are proud of the businesses being honored," said VanderMolen, who owns the Kava House in the Eastown Business District.
Huntington Bank was the event's lead patron, while Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan sponsored the Helmholdt award.
One hundred businesses were nominated for awards this year.
"My perception of the livability of Grand Rapids has gone way up," said James Enright of legal firm Law, Weathers & Richardson, a corporate benefactor to the event.
"Grand Rapids doesn't have to try to be a 'cool city' — we already are one."