Editorial

The mark of a historic chapter in city history

August 23, 2013
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The Monroe Center story on page 3 provides an instant flashback for anyone over the age of 30: “Not that long ago, downtown’s main street was made up of vacant buildings and empty storefronts. That landscape began to change when Rockford Construction Co. transformed the former Peck Drugstore building at Monroe Center and Division Avenue about 15 years ago into what is now MoDiv.”

The story also notes the Morton House on Monroe Center is the last of the buildings along Grand Rapids’ “main street” to be renovated in the downtown sector, which by the mid-1990s was desolate and increasingly deserted.

The development effort slowed during the Great Recession, but this marker in city history is one built by tenacity, community commitment and partnership. It has been a tireless effort that over-achieves “relentless positive action.”

Monroe Center, once known as Monroe Mall, was designed as a part of the city’s first push for a renaissance. It was marked by downtown Grand Rapids’ finest retailers, including Fox Jewelry, Herpolsheimer’s and Gantos. The prospect for success was aided by the conversion of the Pantlind Hotel into the five-star Amway Grand Plaza, construction of the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the Grand Center, now DeVos Place convention center.

In the midst of the downtown retail collapse so evident along Monroe Mall, Grand Action was formed. The group of business leaders built determined partnerships that saw the opening of Van Andel Arena.

That successful experience brought partnerships together for DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall, renovation of the Civic Theatre, the launch of the “theater district” and adjoining incubator spaces for young artists.

Most recently, the Grand Action energy was transformed into the new Downtown Market.

These signature projects created a domino effect of dozens of additional construction in downtown residential projects and the growth of the Grand Valley State University campuses, followed by Ferris State University, including Kendall College of Art & Design.

The creation of the Medical Mile came one building at a time after the unique creation of the Van Andel Institute.

The most obvious domino effect included the construction of Bridgewater Place, renovation of Plaza Towers, The B.O.B., the building of the JW Marriott, and the transformation of the city by new local restaurants and a home for Beer City USA banners.

Pause for a moment: Morton House is the last of the Monroe Center buildings to be restored. There may come a time in the future when Monroe Center is again recreated, but for now, savor the achievement this marker presents and this chapter of development for Grand Rapids.

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