Street Talk

Street Talk: ‘The truth is the truth’

Lakeshore’s advantage.

July 8, 2016
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Propaganda Doughnuts has closed after being one of the hottest foodie destinations in Grand Rapids since it opened a little more than two years ago.

The original Facebook post from the business — which has since been taken down — took to blaming the homeless population around the neighborhood on South Division Avenue.

“It was too much to ask our customers to accept being harassed and approached by panhandlers,” the post said. “This area is no longer acceptable for customers who just want to stop in and get some great doughnuts and coffee.”

More than 60 users responded to the post, some agreeing the homeless population on Division is out of hand, others chastising the business for using “humans with human problems” as an excuse, and more citing the ownership’s own organizational issues.

Whether or not the business was doomed to fail because of operational issues, there appears to be a growing problem on South Division Avenue.

Bob Dykstra, the landlord of the building where Propaganda was located, said while he doesn’t like sounding “like the worst person in the world,” it’s becoming harder to attract tenants to the area and justify investments in the neighborhood.

Dykstra said he’s witnessed entryways being used as bathrooms and multiple stabbings and drug deals.

His office also is on the street, and Dykstra said the problem has increased greatly in his 10 years in the neighborhood.

Dykstra said the issues go far beyond homelessness and into gang activity, drug dealers and prostitution. He added the issue is far beyond a business failing.

“It keeps getting worse,” he said. “The truth is the truth.”

Room to grow

Grand Rapids might have grown a lot in the past five years, but there’s still more work to do.

At the National Lieutenant Governors Association’s annual meeting last week in Grand Rapids, a special panel discussion was held Wednesday to discuss the city’s current economic development, growth and strategic partnerships. Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney of Montana moderated the panel, which consisted of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Amway President Doug DeVos and ArtPrize Director Christian Gaines.

During the question-and-answer segment of the panel, lieutenant governors from around the nation asked the three panelists questions about the city, health care, ArtPrize and more.

One of the questions was about attracting millennials. Bliss said she has a millennial advisory board that advises her on how to empower the millennial generation.

The idea of attracting and retaining millennials has really been a community effort to say “yes” to new ideas and to look at activating public spaces, she said.

One way to empower millennials is through boards and commissions, Bliss said.

“I appoint more than 400 people to serve on boards and commissions throughout the city. And when I started to analyze who is sitting around those tables, what I found is that the average (age) of the individuals around those tables is 62. It also lacked diversity — race and gender,” she said. “So I started really looking at what I can do to embrace more people sitting around those tables.”

Bliss also discussed the issue of affordable housing downtown, saying that city officials are finding a growing “missing middle” — people who make between $30,000 and $60,000 a year and cannot afford to live in the city.

Gaines was asked about ArtPrize and whether it can become its own sustainable model.

“We’re moving rapidly in that direction currently,” Gaines answered.

Night of nights

Grand Rapids isn’t the only West Michigan city with a richly budding entrepreneurial scene.

Lakeshore Advantage, a Zeeland-based nonprofit economic development organization that also has an office at 242 Howard Ave. in Holland, is preparing to launch a new networking program for the lakeshore’s entrepreneurs during the return party of Start Garden’s 5x5 Night later this month.

For the first time ever, the monthly pitch night will be held in Holland. Created in 2011, 5x5 offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to earn a $5,000 grant for their ideas. It will be held at 5 p.m., July 21, at Holland City Flats Hotel, 61 E. 7th St., Holland, presented by Holland SmartZone in partnership with Grand Rapids-based Start Garden — Rick DeVos’ startup accelerator — and Lakeshore Advantage, the administrator of Holland SmartZone.

Holland’s satellite SmartZone status was approved in April by the state Treasury and Michigan Economic Development Corp., allowing tax increment financing to support high-tech emerging businesses and entrepreneurs. The zone covers the majority of downtown Holland.

“As one of the first efforts of the SmartZone partnership, we’re excited to officially launch the Holland SmartZone to the community, with programming, connections and other efforts to attract and grow high-tech startups,” said Brooke Corbin, innovation solutions manager at Lakeshore Advantage. “The 5x5 Night event is the perfect stage for our programming debut, embodying the hope and possibilities of what is to come.”

During the event, Lakeshore Advantage plans to launch its Entrepreneurial Support Network to pair entrepreneurs with service providers, specifically in marketing, legal/intellectual property resources, human resources, finance and accounting, web development and business plan development.

The network was developed in partnership with the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, Corbin said, adding that about 17 service providers are already on board. Anyone interested in being part of the network can apply at 

“Many successful area businesses received some sort of assistance and guidance early on,” said Jane Clark, West Coast Chamber president. “We highly encourage chamber members with the interest, capacity and talent to help entrepreneurs to be part of this network.”

Funding is the biggest issue facing smaller and growing businesses, which is why the services offered by the network are so vital, Corbin said.

“We are noticing that the biggest gaps were in services provided. Entrepreneurs were coming to us and asking for money for this. It’s difficult for funding sources,” she said.

Lakeshore Advantage is like a “mix of Start Garden and The Right Place” for the Lakeshore, Corbin said. The nonprofit, started seven years ago, has a mission to facilitate activity within the Holland SmartZone.

With the SmartZone up and running and 5x5 Night turning its eyes toward the city, Holland entrepreneurship is showing great progress, Corbin said.

“I would say the entrepreneurial spirit has been a big piece of Holland for years, and with the furniture companies here, it’s very deep in our community. There’s been a revival of that spirit,” she said.

“I do think there’s a renewed excitement around it. That’s in part because of the Holland SmartZone. We don’t have the density Grand Rapids has, obviously, but through the 5x5 event and us making ourselves known as the Holland SmartZone, we’ll see a lot of people coming out of the woodwork, people who are inventing things in their garage and didn’t know there (were) resources.”

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