Making Like A Mom

October 23, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Much attention has been paid to how clean the downtown business district is. The spotlessness of the streets, sidewalks and storefronts has even been praised nationally in some big-city newspapers such as The New York Times.

But downtown’s spic-and-span state hasn’t come about because the district’s residents, workers and visitors are a conscientiously tidy group. No, it’s because someone is making like mom and perpetually picking up after them.

The cleaning and maintenance crew of the Downtown Alliance collects nearly 120,000 pounds of discarded trash from the district each year, and has collected more than 700,000 pounds since the organization got into the street-cleaning business six-plus years ago.

Downtown Alliance Executive Director Sharon Evoy said her seven-person, yellow-vested crew regularly picks up 2,300 pounds of garbage from downtown’s streets and alleys.

“We’re taking that much trash out of downtown every week. And we’re the backup support for downtown maintenance in the winter,” she said.

“It’s been a challenge to stay within the area defined as our district. We will continue with that mission. We pick up and go beyond,” said Ray Kisor, executive vice president at Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce and chairman of the Downtown Alliance.

The alliance aims not just to keep the business district clean, but also to make it better looking through its beautification program. The organization, which gets its funding from property owners downtown, has 75 floral planters placed throughout the district, with 30 of those located on Monroe Center.

The idea behind that effort is to make downtown an attractive place to visit — and not just for out-of-town convention delegates. The alliance oversees a marketing campaign funded by the Downtown Development Authority that tries to lure suburbanites to the restaurants, shops and events in the district. Each person that the alliance succeeds in drawing is reportedly worth an average of $80 to the downtown economy.

Economic Club of Grand Rapids Treasurer and Downtown Improvement District Chair Bob Herr said the alliance has contracted out the maintenance work to One Source. He also said the alliance wants One Source to only hire unemployed workers for the cleanup crew, and the company does that through Goodwill Industries.

City commissioners recently confirmed the property-tax assessment that makes up the alliance’s annual budget, which totals $773,527. Of that amount, $571,067 will be spent on maintenance, beautification, marketing and district improvements. The rest will cover the cost to operate the snowmelt system on Monroe Center.

“These are extra services that we pay for, in addition to what the city does. The Downtown Alliance is contributing positively to downtown,” said Joseph Tomaselli, president of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and a member of the Convention and Arena Authority and DDA.

“The cleanliness of the city and the work of the Downtown Alliance helps us book conventions,” added George Helmstead, vice president of sales at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The alliance has coordinated a promotion that intends to raise funds for the art programs at Grand Rapids Public Schools. At least two dozen downtown retail shops and restaurants made donations to the schools’ art programs through last Saturday.

Past alliance chairman Kurt Hassberger, also COO of Rockford Companies, told the Business Journal that GRPS students only receive art supplies worth $1.50 each year, and downtown businesses were eager to pump up that figure. The promotion ran in tandem with the grand opening of the new Grand Rapids Art Museum on Monroe Center.

CAA Chairman Steven Heacock suggested that the alliance consider another promotion — one that would match downtown retailers with downtown businesses. Heacock is the chief administrative officer and general counsel for the Van Andel Research Institute and he said institute employees would probably like the products that Little Bohemia offers.

So he suggested that maybe Little Bohemia could host a VAI night at its Monroe Center shop, and other retailers could do the same for other businesses in the district.

“We have a lot of people that would fit there,” he said of VAI and the retailer.

Heacock also suggested the alliance put more trash containers in the district so workers, residents and visitors could do a little more picking up on their own.

“We’re trying to decide what beautification projects to take on next,” said Evoy.

When winter arrives, the cleanup crew will switch from sweeping the sidewalks and pulling weeds to shoveling the walks and hanging garlands on Monroe Center.

But even with their snow duties, they’ll still be picking up an average of 2,300 pounds of trash every week.

Making Like A Mom

David Czurak

GRAND RAPIDS — Much attention has been paid to how clean the downtown business district is. The spotlessness of the streets, sidewalks and storefronts has even been praised nationally in some big-city newspapers such as The New York Times.

But downtown’s spic-and-span state hasn’t come about because the district’s residents, workers and visitors are a conscientiously tidy group. No, it’s because someone is making like mom and perpetually picking up after them.

The cleaning and maintenance crew of the Downtown Alliance collects nearly 120,000 pounds of discarded trash from the district each year, and has collected more than 700,000 pounds since the organization got into the street-cleaning business six-plus years ago.

Downtown Alliance Executive Director Sharon Evoy said her seven-person, yellow-vested crew regularly picks up 2,300 pounds of garbage from downtown’s streets and alleys.

“We’re taking that much trash out of downtown every week. And we’re the backup support for downtown maintenance in the winter,” she said.

“It’s been a challenge to stay within the area defined as our district. We will continue with that mission. We pick up and go beyond,” said Ray Kisor, executive vice president at Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce and chairman of the Downtown Alliance.

The alliance aims not just to keep the business district clean, but also to make it better looking through its beautification program. The organization, which gets its funding from property owners downtown, has 75 floral planters placed throughout the district, with 30 of those located on Monroe Center.

The idea behind that effort is to make downtown an attractive place to visit — and not just for out-of-town convention delegates. The alliance oversees a marketing campaign funded by the Downtown Development Authority that tries to lure suburbanites to the restaurants, shops and events in the district. Each person that the alliance succeeds in drawing is reportedly worth an average of $80 to the downtown economy.

Economic Club of Grand Rapids Treasurer and Downtown Improvement District Chair Bob Herr said the alliance has contracted out the maintenance work to One Source. He also said the alliance wants One Source to only hire unemployed workers for the cleanup crew, and the company does that through Goodwill Industries.

City commissioners recently confirmed the property-tax assessment that makes up the alliance’s annual budget, which totals $773,527. Of that amount, $571,067 will be spent on maintenance, beautification, marketing and district improvements. The rest will cover the cost to operate the snowmelt system on Monroe Center.

“These are extra services that we pay for, in addition to what the city does. The Downtown Alliance is contributing positively to downtown,” said Joseph Tomaselli, president of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and a member of the Convention and Arena Authority and DDA.

“The cleanliness of the city and the work of the Downtown Alliance helps us book conventions,” added George Helmstead, vice president of sales at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The alliance has coordinated a promotion that intends to raise funds for the art programs at Grand Rapids Public Schools. At least two dozen downtown retail shops and restaurants made donations to the schools’ art programs through last Saturday.

Past alliance chairman Kurt Hassberger, also COO of Rockford Companies, told the Business Journal that GRPS students only receive art supplies worth $1.50 each year, and downtown businesses were eager to pump up that figure. The promotion ran in tandem with the grand opening of the new Grand Rapids Art Museum on Monroe Center.

CAA Chairman Steven Heacock suggested that the alliance consider another promotion — one that would match downtown retailers with downtown businesses. Heacock is the chief administrative officer and general counsel for the Van Andel Research Institute and he said institute employees would probably like the products that Little Bohemia offers.

So he suggested that maybe Little Bohemia could host a VAI night at its Monroe Center shop, and other retailers could do the same for other businesses in the district.

“We have a lot of people that would fit there,” he said of VAI and the retailer.

Heacock also suggested the alliance put more trash containers in the district so workers, residents and visitors could do a little more picking up on their own.

“We’re trying to decide what beautification projects to take on next,” said Evoy.

When winter arrives, the cleanup crew will switch from sweeping the sidewalks and pulling weeds to shoveling the walks and hanging garlands on Monroe Center.

But even with their snow duties, they’ll still be picking up an average of 2,300 pounds of trash every week.

“People have become accustomed to a level of dirt and rubbish that is unacceptable here,” said Mayor George Heartwell of those who visit downtown. “And this sets us apart from other cities.”

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