Getting On The Same Path

July 5, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — They got together for the first time recently and they plan to meet at least once each quarter from now on.

Billed as a downtown forum, the meeting brought together about 25 board members, executive directors, commissioners and other key individuals who are directly involved with the economic development of downtown. Their goal is to streamline and coordinate their efforts in order to make life easier for developers and to create an image for downtown that can be easily marketed to everyone.

The meeting in the second-floor auditorium of the Grand Rapids Public Library began simply enough. Downtown Improvement District Chairman Robert Herr explained what his group does and where it gets its funding.

Then Downtown Alliance Chair Kurt Hassberger, Downtown Development Authority Chair Kayem Dunn, City Economic Development Director Susan Shannon, and Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema did the same for their organizations.

"If we don't have a vibrant downtown, the rest of the area will suffer," said Shannon. "We all need to be on the same path to make this the best downtown in the state."

Shannon added that just in the past year the city has assisted on 18 downtown projects, four through the nearly tax-free Renaissance Zone and 14 through the city's Brownfield Authority. MonroeCenter,

South Division Avenue
and
Commerce Avenue
have been the three downtown locales that have benefited the most from that assistance in recent months.

Dunn said staff members of the groups, which relate to each other as far as development opportunities are concerned, have been meeting on a weekly basis for a while.

"But the leadership has just recently come together," she added. "We want to get together and keep downtown moving forward."

One new project that is moving forward is an effort to give downtown a more uniform look as far as streetlights, pavers and other items such as planters are concerned. Downtown Alliance Executive Director Sharon Evoy said Progressive AE has been chosen to serve as a consultant to the project, and that the next step was to find a firm that specializes in giving downtowns an identity that can be easily marketed.

Evoy said meetings would be held in the coming months to get input from the public, especially downtown business owners. The DDA, the Downtown Alliance and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation are paying for the $40,000 project.

"Our biggest challenge in the long run is identifying resources," said Hassberger.

At the top of the Downtown Alliance agenda is the creation of a Web site, a one-stop virtual spot that would list everything going on and available downtown.

"Our intent is to increase the effectiveness of the downtown groups," said Dunn. "To do business downtown or to enjoy some of the entertainment, we need to get the word out."

City Manager Kurt Kimball attended the meeting, as did four parking commissioners. But none of the city commissioners did.    

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