Bosnjak Comes Of Age

April 18, 2006
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GRAND HAVEN — Despite having a two-room office to himself — complete with front desk and conference table — George Bosnjak is rarely bored or even alone.

As the new executive director of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority, Bosnjak has meetings many mornings of the week with the design, promotions, business recruitment and retention and organization committees, while he spends his afternoons reviewing the meetings and catching up with business owners and others interested in downtown Grand Haven.

Bosnjak recently became the executive director after serving as interim director since November, when Brigit Hassig resigned to accept a position as the director of operations for the ChristianCommunityChurch in SpringLake. Hassig was the founding executive director of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority, which was created when Downtown Grand Haven Inc. and the Downtown Development Authority merged in July.

At the age of 24, Bosnjak is not new to the urban planning and development scene in West Michigan. Having worked with the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council and the City of Grand Haven before joining the authority, Bosnjak said his many mentors have aided his quick rise to leadership.

"I credit being able to have worked with great people in West Michigan and learned from them," he said.

Bosnjak calls Don Stypula, Grand Valley Metropolitan Council executive director, and Jay Peters, former executive director of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, "huge influences" on his career path.

"I've been lucky to spend time around them," he said.

Another of Bosnjak's mentors is Pat McGinnis, Grand Haven city manager, whom he worked with as an intern and an interim assistant to the city manager. McGinnis said Bosnjak has a good grasp of management and the skill set necessary in a leadership role.

"He just knows how to manage resources; he knows how to manage people," he said. "You wouldn't guess he was in his early 20s by business dealings with him."

McGinnis said while Grand Haven evolves and changes, it will be good to have a leader in the Main Street Development Authority that is familiar with the way the city works.

"We're charting new waters," he said. "To have somebody (at the DDA) that does have a good working relationship with city hall is real important to us."

McGinnis said so far Bosnjak has done well in his new role.

"I'm impressed with his skills and I believe that he will be a real asset to the business community here in Grand Haven as he goes forward," McGinnis said. "He's done a fantastic job of navigating some interesting waters (at the DDA)."

After his experience working with the Bosnjak in the city management office, McGinnis said he was happy that Bosnjak was going to stay in the city.

"I think the DDA was fortunate to cross paths with George when they did," he said.

McGinnis said one of Bosnjak's best traits is his team mentality. Though he no longer works at city hall, McGinnis said Bosnjak was happy to fill in at a recent night meeting which McGinnis' assistant could not attend.

"He's there as just a member of the team," McGinnis said. "He's a valuable part of our whole city team, our whole business community team."

Throughout his time with the city of Grand Haven and the Grand Haven Main Street Development Authority, Bosnjak has also been working on his master's degree in urban and regional planning and policy from GrandValleyStateUniversity, which he will finish this month. Between school and his position, Bosnjak said his schedule has been a full one, especially considering he and his wife, Jill, were married in August and visited Portugal in March.

Bosnjak said he enjoys travel and the perspective it gives him.

"You learn more about yourself and how your city and community operates by being somewhere different," he said.

Being in different countries, including Poland, Portugal and Croatia, has helped Bosnjak with his communication skills, something that has come in handy with his new position.

"Communication is a big part of this job," he said.

Bosnjak said he needs to consider the goals of the city council, the business owners and the community and make sure they fit together.

"I think everyone is on the same page," he said. "Our main goal here is to enhance our viable and historic downtown."

Though there have been challenges with the variety of developments that have been taking place in downtown Grand Haven, Bosnjak said the community wants to do what's best for Grand Haven.

"It's a really a grass-roots effort to continue to make what we have here grow and thrive," he said.

There is about $11 million in private investment being made in downtown Grand Haven, Bosnjak said, as well as eight new properties that have cropped up over the past three years.

"It's been a challenge with how many different properties that we have," he said.

With both a CoolCities and

Main Street
designation for the city, interest in the area shows no signs of stopping. Bosnjak said there are at least three more significant properties coming in the future, including plans for a CityCommunity Center, a new courthouse and more private investment.

The DDA has its own investment with parking lot and utilities improvements that are starting this spring. Construction on the first of four city lots will be started soon, as will the process of burying power, phone and cable lines and upgrading the city's electrical system.

Though the project will begin in the spring, Bosnjak said the major construction may not take place until fall to prevent interference with the tourism season.

"We want to make sure there's not distraction during the summer months," he said. "We always have to keep (the downtown businesses') best interests in mind."

For Bosnjak, Grand Haven is not just another city. Though he grew up in Maryland and lived in various Michigan cities, he has roots in Grand Haven. Bosnjak's grandparents worked in downtown Grand Haven; his grandmother was a waitress at Dee Lite restaurant while his grandfather worked at the Bastian-Blessing stainless steel company.

"I'd certainly like to make a positive impact and I think this is a wonderful time," he said. "I hope I can look back and know that I had part of something positive happening in the community."

Though being young for the executive director position of a downtown development authority has its issues, Bosnjak said he doesn't consider it to be a problem.

"Being younger you have to make sure you always put your best foot forward," he said. "Always be informed, well-prepared. I certainly don't see a reason why someone my age would not be able to do this."    

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