Economic Development, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Division merchants waiting on Silver Line

Business district is in flux, but new bus line may help.

June 20, 2014
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Members of the Division Avenue Business Association say a new bus rapid transit line scheduled to start in August could draw new customers who may not be aware of the eclectic array of businesses that line the retail district.

DABA also hopes the bus rapid transit, known as the Silver Line, will help more people to realize some negative perceptions about South Division Avenue are unfounded, said Tommy Brann, president of the 39-member business association and owner/operator of Tommy Brann's Steakhouse & Grille.

The approximately 200 businesses that line Division Avenue between 28th and 44th streets that are within Wyoming and Kentwood are not in the midst of an area that is a hotbed for prostitution and crime, despite lingering stereotypes, said Brann.

In reality, Division Avenue business owners are a multi-ethnic group of people who diligently work to maintain appealing exteriors and properties, working together twice yearly to clean the business district of weeds and debris, said Brann. Businesses within the retail district include Godwin Hardware, Advance America, McDonald’s, Bubble Magic Laundry, Scott’s Barber and Beauty Shop, the seasonal Dairy Den ice cream shop and a tattoo parlor.

Because owners are used to working together, Brann said, the DABA will not pursue a Corridor Improvement Authority, which allows municipalities to “capture” increased assessed value of properties that can be used to enliven a retail district’s appearance, such as new sidewalks, road and façade improvements, streetscapes and decorative lighting.

Plainfield and Grand Rapids townships in 2006 approved an intergovernmental CIA to improve Plainfield Avenue NE between Four Mile Road and Lamberton Lake Drive.

“I did look into that but didn’t pursue it,” said Brann. “We do our own physical stuff. It’s not that we don’t need the money, especially if we could get some storefronts to look better. We looked into it but didn’t aggressively pursue it.”

Brann said the Silver Line’s new bus depots will add an upscale touch to the thoroughfare, which also has its share of pedestrians and bicyclists. Division Avenue carries a daily average of 12,300 to 15,000 vehicles, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Division Avenue once carried U.S. 131 traffic until construction of the freeway through Grand Rapids in the 1960s.

“The (bus) depots are modern,” said Brann. “There’s a (shuttered) Burger King that might become a strip mall, as well.”

Steve Karrip, owner-manager of Metro Motors, said he is taking a cautionary wait-and-see attitude with the Silver Line.

“I have to see how it goes,” Karrip said. “People who ride the Silver Line may become more curious about the businesses here. If they do want to buy a car, they’ll see what’s available. They’ll see there are a lot of ethnic businesses along Division Avenue.”

Construction on the $39 million BRT line began in April 2013 after a decade of planning. It will run from 60th Street in Gaines Township to Bostwick Avenue NE in downtown Grand Rapids and back, largely moving along Division Avenue. It will include 34 stations and use 10 buses to serve the route. Training will begin in July for bus drivers and other personnel before the Silver Line becomes operational Aug. 25.

The Division Avenue route was chosen in part because of its “high farebox recovery ratio,” meaning the percentage of operating expenses met by passenger fares. For the Division route, it is about 40 percent.

Currently, there are a handful of empty storefronts and a neighborhood grocery store — Gordy’s Market, 4241 S. Division Ave. — that shuttered in May. Gordy’s had been in business for about four decades.

“It’s not positive,” said Brann, of Gordy’s closing. “Its closing affects the homeowners. A lot of people loved that place. Some (retailers) are not doing too much business. I think part of what’s good about Division Avenue is a lot of start-up businesses start up here.”

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