Street Talk

Street Talk: Keeping an eye on the downtown sky

High notes.

June 13, 2014
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It wasn’t that long ago when construction cranes were dotting the downtown skyline.

With at least a dozen residential real estate projects underway or on the drawing board, Suzanne Schulz, managing director of design, development and community engagement for the city of Grand Rapids, is hoping those days may return in the near future.

Another of those hopeful voices was that of Sam Cummings, co-managing partner at CWD Real Estate. One thing that Grand Rapids has going for it that other similar-size cities do not is a certain vibrancy, he said, and that could play to the local economy’s advantage as future projects will involve both building new spaces and renovating old ones.

“It is my personal opinion that we can easily double our urban population without causing significant rate pressure. It is important, however, that the incremental delivery of those additions don’t happen too fast or in tranches that are too large — that was learned at River House (Condominiums),” he said. 

“Our market, although it could absorb the 207 units delivered there, it couldn’t absorb them in the velocity that the project required internally and it damaged the market for more than five years — further complicated and enhanced by the financial crisis.”

If the additions do happen at the right pace, the influx of residential developments going in downtown will not just add to the dynamic of the local culture, but spur “a much needed interest in additional retail,” said Monica Clark, director of community development at 616 Development.

“Many of these areas of development have been parts of recent corridor and neighborhood studies,” she said. “With the Downtown Plan currently under way, I think this will be a great way to pull together many of these plans into one and highlight best uses and how they will connect. Adding a large component of residential to these areas has the potential to add to the vibrancy and growth of the area.”

It also has the potential to add a few more cranes to that skyline view.

Bangor, or Bangor?

There are at least five cities or towns named Bangor in the United States. Michigan has one, down in Van Buren County, but the best known Bangor is in Maine. (Remember “third boxcar, midnight train, destination Bangor, Maine” in Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”?)

Leonard Lux, the economic development director for Bangor, Michigan, told the Business Journal that the town is properly pronounced “bang-gore,” just like Bangor, Maine. And then he told a funny story about people who get Bangor, Michigan, mixed up with Bangor, Maine.

Last year, an exasperated East Coast fellow who had been driving a truckload of beer around Bangor, Michigan, finally found his way to the town office. He had driven for 18 hours to make a delivery in Bangor and just could not find the address in town.

It didn’t take Lux long to figure out the problem.

“I told him, you’re about 16 hours out of the way,” said Lux.

We suspect this was another case of just too much reliance on the GPS.

Millage message

The Kent County Board of Commissioners acted unanimously last week to put the question of a dedicated millage for increased veterans’ services before the voters on the August ballot — but is that really necessary?

“The need for additional funding (to support veterans’ services by the county) has been clearly demonstrated,” said County Commissioner Jim Talen, “and it seems like a no-brainer to me.”

So Talen voted last week with the others, in favor of putting it on the ballot. But then, a student of political science might conclude that in America’s political climate today, no politician would dare risk being perceived in any fashion as “anti-veteran.”

However, Talen has repeatedly questioned the need for putting the “veterans’ millage” question before the voters.

The ballot question will ask voters to approve a dedicated millage levy of 0.050 mills for increased veterans’ services, which would amount to about $5 on the property tax bill for a home with a cash value of $200,000.

In conversations with his fellow commissioners and in his June 9 newsletter to constituents, Talen noted that Kent County does not now levy the full amount of property taxes that it is allowed to by law. The county, he said, “could simply fund the services (for veterans), as they are ramped up, by levying up to the full amount” of millage now approved, but not used.

The veterans’ millage is predicted to raise an estimated $1,001,290 next year, and an equivalent amount each year thereafter, through 2021. It would fund additional services for military veterans and their families who live in Kent County. The county budget for that now is about $300,000.

“If it’s important, why don’t we just do it?” Talen told the Business Journal. He noted that county commissioners are elected to make decisions like this.

Now there will have to be a campaign in support of the ballot question. And what if the voters somehow decide it isn’t necessary? Would the county commissioners then be blocked from doing it on their own?

The 0.050 mills would generate at least three times the amount of money Kent County now spends on veterans’ services. Talen said the county commissioners could have ramped up the spending on those services gradually, using the unused mills on the books, rather than an instant, “huge increase” in funds to spend, “which, I think, tends to be difficult to manage” efficiently.

Song of praise

This year is tour year for the choral department at Catholic Central and the choir’s fifth tour of Italy is scheduled for the last week of June.

Under the direction of Dennis Rybicki, the choirs will present concerts in Assisi, Florence and Rome. In addition, they will sing in the Papal Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul on Sunday, June 29. They also will have the honor of singing for Pope Francis during his weekly Papal Audience on Wednesday, July 2.

More than 100 members of the Catholic Central community — 80 students and 60 adults, including Principal Greg Deja — will be making the trip to Italy, according to Rybicki.

“It’s such an incredible opportunity for our students to sing at such significant places of our faith,” said Deja. “The thought of our choir performing on a world stage is very exciting and I am proud to be able to take part in it.”

The choir has been fundraising all school year to help defray the expenses of the trip. Every four years, the choir goes on an international tour and has traveled to such places as Ireland, Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. 

“This tour will be the best ever,” said Rybicki. “It will be the spiritual, artistic and cultural experience of a lifetime.”

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