Statistics defy what area downtown have to offer

June 25, 2012
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The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority has funded yet another study to assist the growth of retail in the city’s urban core. The Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham is the latest consultant to offer an assist.

Downtown improvements and changes have almost a 50-year history, given a jump first by urban renewal efforts that launched “the Calder,” its plaza, a new city hall and wrecking balls for what was old and ailing. A downtown pedestrian mall was constructed, like every other downtown in America. It was torn out, like every other downtown in America. Ten years ago, River City declared itself cool, like every other city in America.

There have been vast and far more enduring changes that assist the city’s appeal, especially the renovation and revitalization of existing and historic buildings — using sustainable building principles. But one thing does not change: the Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The hurt of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget change almost a decade ago that separated Ottawa and Muskegon counties from the big MSA number remains the crippler. The Right Place Inc., with county governments, repeatedly has tried to get the OMB to return to the inclusive statistical area, but to no avail. Right Place President Birgit Klohs often notes it is the first statistic business owners research when considering a move.

What also hurts the first impression for employers worldwide is the first clue for retailers interested in a specific market. In fact, The Right Place prefers the Combined Statistical Area number reflecting the inclusion of the lakeshore counties, as well as those OMB assigned: Newaygo, Barry, Ionia and Allegan.

The MSA was the primary motivator for the One Kent group in looking at governmental consolidations for city and county governments to boost that number.

Every mayor since the late Jerry Helmholdt has wished for a major retailer for the downtown, but, in truth, it is the business owners of this region who will continue to create a place all retailers would like to be a part of. To wit: GRid70 created by corporate leaders Steelcase, Amway and Meijer; the new Wolverine World Wide retail location on Monroe Center; the young risk-takers who have opened boutiques and restaurants; the Avenue of the Arts investors; and, most importantly, the colleges and universities that continue to expand within the downtown region, pouring a population of college students into the mix.

New and renewed efforts by the stakeholders here will continue to make the difference, albeit patiently. The plan for Loeks Theaters to build downtown, the Urban Market now just one year from opening and other such projects will continue to build a “downtown” community.

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