Heartside partnerships touted

November 15, 2010
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Heartside District has been a critical focus of one of the most creative and varied development partnerships ever assembled in this city, and looking back over the last two decades, the outcomes generated by the public, private and not-for-profit partners have been exceptional.

Recently, concern has been expressed about the Pekich Park and Division Avenue on-street parking. The partners have worked to address these concerns while continuing a balanced approach that has served Heartside well over the years.

Continued progress will be determined by the joint effort of all of the Heartside partners. The platform is in place and we have pledged our continued engagement including the first serious look at investigating the potential for a three-lane section for Division Avenue and exploration of business acceleration tools for this district. We have come this far together and have achieved proven results.

Perspective is important. Think back to before the Van Andel Arena and the bleak surface parking lot that existed there; or Ionia before redevelopment investment and the brick street; or the quality of housing before Dwelling Place and a score of not-for-profits invested heavily; or Commerce Street before critical private investments by San Chez, Gallery on Fulton, UICA, 38, Cooley Law School, Douglas J. Aveda, and Western Michigan University — and this only scratches the surface.

Then consider the investment by the DDA and city in infrastructure to support redevelopment and improved quality of life in Heartside that includes: new streets, sidewalks and lighting on Fulton, Ionia, Commerce, Oakes, Ottawa, Williams, Wealthy and Division; new underground infrastructure in each of these streets; high speed communication infrastructure; modern traffic and pedestrian signals; Heartside Park; Commerce/Cherry Parking Ramp, Weston/Commerce Parking Ramp at 38; and Gallery on Fulton parking ramp.

Division Avenue has been a critical focus for redevelopment and has experienced significant public, private and not-for-profit investment. One block of Division Avenue between Cherry and Oakes has been reconstructed, and the remainder of Division Avenue between Fulton and Wealthy has been resurfaced. Care has been taken to adhere to the approved Heartside Mainstreet Design Charrette that was developed by neighborhood stakeholders and funded by the Heartside Mainstreet Program, DDA, MDOT, Dyer-Ives Foundation and GVMC. The reconstruction project was funded by MDOT, DDA, MSHDA, and the city of Grand Rapids.

Recently, Cherry Street was realigned to improve pedestrian safety and to promote east/west connections between Heritage Hill, East Hills and Heartside.

The city has partnered with Dwelling Place and MSHDA in the successful redevelopment of buildings on the east side of Division Avenue between Oakes and Cherry Streets. The city partnered with a private developer to save and redevelop 101 S. Division on the west side of Division Avenue. The residential portion of this redevelopment has leased successfully.

Pekich Park, at the corner of Division and Cherry, was developed by the DDA based on plans developed in conjunction with the neighborhood.

So, taken in context, the Heartside partners have made amazing progress to date and have created a platform for significant additional progress. Better still, the Heartside partners have made this progress by being very aware that they are working in the context of a transitional neighborhood.

I have experienced this transition from two very different perspectives, having served as director of Heartside Ministry and as a member of the DDA board of directors, in addition to my role as mayor. We have done a better job than most communities in the nation. Because of that, I am confident we will continue to make progress.

When concerns were expressed about Pekich Park, the park was placed under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Department, which permitted strict park rules to be enforced. The police department has focused sustained attention on education and enforcement of park rules, which has included over 165 hours of directed patrol. Physical changes have also been made to the park. The outcome has been an improved experience at the park for the neighborhood.

When concerns were expressed about on-street parking after full implementation of the plan devised by the neighborhood charrette, adjustments were made to the street pavement markings, and two hydrants will soon be relocated. This allowed the restoration of four parking spaces on Division Avenue, a loading zone and one space on Cherry Street. Additional spaces are being located on Sheldon Street in this district.

In 2000, 33 metered spaces were located on Division Avenue between Oakes and Williams. With the adjustments being implemented, 25 metered spaces will be located on Division Avenue for a net reduction of eight spaces. In 2000, as many as 27 spaces were located on Cherry Street between Commerce and Sheldon. With the adjustments being implemented, 12 spaces will be located on Cherry Street for a net reduction of 15 spaces. Additional spaces will be added to Sheldon Avenue in the near future.

During this same period, 313 off-street spaces were added within one block at the Cherry/Commerce Ramp. Walk one block north, and 372 off-street spaces have been added at the Weston-Commerce Ramp. Gallery on Fulton contains another 236 spaces and is just a little farther north. That’s more than 900 off-street spaces within an easy walk of Division Avenue, and a significant on-street parking presence also was maintained. Meanwhile, critical east/west access between districts has been improved.

George Heartwell is the mayor of Grand Rapids.

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