Street Talk

Street Talk: Downtown's Doughnut

House of cards.

February 26, 2016
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With the public and private sectors getting a better grasp on the retail needs of West Michigan at the International Council of Shopping Centers P3 Conference on Tuesday, many residents will wonder, “When’s a grocery store coming to downtown?”

Unfortunately for those with visions of victuals, a grocery store doesn’t look promising in the near future, said Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. President and CEO Kris Larson, who in a previous job recruited retailers to downtown Long Beach, California.

In fact, Grand Rapids would need about 20,000 people living downtown and in the near vicinity before a large grocer could make a financial go of it, Larson said. That will take a decade or more at the current growth rate.

Another reason a downtown grocer is pie in the sky right now is several neighborhood grocery stores already surround downtown. And then there’s this: A person living in the center of the city can travel four miles in any direction and find a store owned by Hank and Doug Meijer.

“You’re not going to win on a cost basis, and if you’re not cheaper, you need to be convenient,” Larson said. “Most of our options aren’t inconvenient. It’s going to be a tough play for a large store to make economic sense.”

Instead of a full-service grocer, Larson said he could see where a pharmacy such as CVS or Walgreens could open downtown and provide limited food choices. That could happen in the next two or three years. Another option would be several “traditional urban bodegas” scattered around downtown for drop-in essentials.

“That way, you don’t need to jump in the car to grab three limes,” Larson said.

While a Magnificent Mile isn’t likely in Grand Rapids due to the lack of high-income density, Larson does hope the opening up of some riverfront properties announced by the city last week will help create a retail cluster downtown.

“Retail likes other retail, so to get A, you need to have B and C,” Larson said. “It becomes a game of dominoes, and you have to have physical space. We’re hoping for some riverfront development, like the 201 Market site. That provides a large format space to cluster some retail.”

Role call

The city of Grand Rapids has partnered with Segal Waters Consulting, a benefits, compensation and human resources consulting firm, to complete a classification and compensation study for its employees.

Segal Waters began preliminary work last month and moved into the second phase of the nearly yearlong effort this past Friday to compile information from the workforce about their duties and responsibilities.

During his presentation to city commissioners last week, Elliott Susseles, senior vice president of the Segal Waters Consulting Division, said the goal of the study is to ensure work is properly defined and employees have the correct job titles for their work.

“We want to ensure there are ultimately correct job descriptions so employees know what is expected of them, so the city has correct criteria to recruit new employees, and to understand what training and development needs there might be for the city’s workforce to ensure their skills are up to date in terms of the technology and the way work is performed,” said Susseles.

The study will compile information from employees, supervisors and managers for the nearly 415 job titles at the city, and then compare the findings to peer city markets to determine the competitiveness of pay for Grand Rapids. Segal Waters will then make recommendations about potential adjustments.

“This job classification structure will be updated or streamlined, and there may be some impact on pay grades attributable to people either being assigned to different job titles based on the actual work they perform, and/or based on what the market study tells us in terms of competitiveness of pay,” said Susseles.

The study is expected to last through November with a final presentation in December. Last year city commissioners approved an investment of up to $250,000 from the Transformation Fund for the study.

Source of pride

Resource center Lesbian Gay Community Network of Western Michigan, better known as The Network, has changed its name to Grand Rapids Pride Center.

The name change is part of a rebranding effort to better align with the organization’s mission of “empowering our LGBTQ community through supportive services and awareness.”

“We are excited about this name change as it will allow us to be more in line with today’s diversity and inclusiveness initiatives and resources that we offer,” said Mike Hemmingsen, board president of Grand Rapids Pride Center.

The center operates several social and support groups, a youth homelessness program, publishes an LGBTQ resource/business directory, provides a career development program and organizes the annual Grand Rapids Pride Festival.

The organization will celebrate its 28th anniversary in May.

The rights stuff

West Michigan Environmental Action Council hosted its Women and the Environment Symposium last week, which featured keynote speaker Jacqueline Patterson, director of environmental and climate justice programs for the NAACP.

Many braved the biggest snowstorm of the year to hear Patterson discuss the intersection of environmental and climate issues with civil rights, human rights and social justice issues.

She spoke about how the Flint water crisis is impacting an already impoverished community. She talked about how negative outcomes can result from elected officials being from outside the community.

“Hopefully, people are seeing how inextricably bound the wellbeing of a community is with the ability of a community to govern itself because they know what is best for their community members,” she said. “If someone is making decisions for a community who doesn’t represent the community or live in the community, there is a higher likelihood of a situation where someone is going to decide to make a switch to a water supply based purely on economics without doing due diligence.

“If they don’t think they’re going to be drinking it or their children are going to be drinking it, that due diligence might not be as stringent,” Patterson said.

She also spoke about how issues such as food scarcity and poverty affect women, in particular, around the globe.

“Women are often the folks delivering the bread basket for the family, and when they aren’t able to bring that home for the family, it triggers a number of impacts,” she said.

“When women aren’t able to bring home the food, you see a spike in violence across the world as it relates to not being able to carry out one of the duties of the household.”

She also spoke about the power of social media in helping to bring some of these issues to light and build greater support nationally and globally for change.

“People might know they are experiencing things in their community, but as we are talking with other people, we start to have more of a united frame or narrative that starts to build momentum like a drum beat,” she said.

One piece of advice Patterson shared was about policy making.

“I would encourage looking at equity throughout policy making, not just having a patchwork situation but looking at pervasive equity issues and having comprehensive planning so that our communities aren’t built like a house of cards.”

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