South Division projects bring welcome progress
The last 15 years have brought a major transformation to the core of Grand Rapids. It’s transformed from derelict, vacant spaces to a vibrant, thriving city center. I remember volunteering as a youth on South Division and Cherry at Degage Ministries. I would drive home feeling anxious in the dark, hoping my car didn’t break down and making sure my doors were locked.
Some of that anxiety was my ignorance. My own bubble didn’t allow me to feel comfortable in that space, around those who were different than me. I was taught to fear that South Division corridor. Some of it was justified. Crime rates were higher. There were many abandoned buildings, broken windows and empty spaces.
This month, construction began on two new mid-rise buildings that will bring over 80 new market rate and moderate-income apartments to that same street corner. These buildings are sure to change the face of that street corner — directly opposite of Degage Ministries — forever.
These buildings, by Brookstone Capital and Wolverine Building Group, are only a continuation of what has already been started. There have been several new additions along this corridor in the last five years — both renovation of old buildings and construction of new. Those vacant buildings that made me uneasy as a youth now have lights on at night.
The transformation is surely not yet complete. There will be more to come. The Rapid’s BRT line will continue to change the face of this part of our city for years to come. The BRT will be a change itself, but, more than that, it will be an agent of change — a catalyst.
Along with the change, there continues to be a certain level of continuity. The people I didn’t understand and so unjustly feared as a youth are still there, only they are joined by a new group of middle-class residents, workers, shoppers and restaurant patrons. I think this is progress. I think we are breaking down barriers. This is an opportunity.
The task we have as a city is to challenge and encourage the stakeholders to embrace this diversity. This will require dialogue, compromise and respect, and I am confident this will strengthen South Division and, subsequently, our city.