New Development Begs MEDC Planning Aid

April 21, 2003
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It’s been a banner week for developers in the city of Grand Rapids:
  • The Grand Rapids Art Museum unveiled the architect’s plan for a new museum just off Maya Lin’s installation, Ecliptic.

  • Two DeVos brothers are joining Rockford Companies’ John Wheeler in renovating an enormous stretch of Cherry and Oakes streets as Cooley Law School construction begins in Wheeler’s Cherry Street Landing project.

  • The city commission has approved budgets for two SmartZones, one on the north end of downtown, which is already capturing $211,000 in taxes this year.

These projects are a sign of the burgeoning business growth in the city and serve as headlines signaling economic recovery. As such is underway, it is crucial that the city plan some guiding principles upon which to review future projects. It has its best chance to do so through a Michigan Economic Development Corp. program, Blueprints for Michigan’s Downtowns. The city announced the Downtown Development Authority would make application for the grant money available through the program to create an action plan.

The MEDC projects have celebrated some of the agency’s greatest successes in Grand Rapids, and the private/public aspect of creating such a plan has been modeled in Grand Rapids for more than 30 years. With so many development opportunities already providing a foundation for further planning, it would seem a “no-brainer” for MEDC to select Grand Rapids for the Blueprint project, but it may not happen without the political assistance of area legislators.

State Rep. Michael Sak is already planning a “roundtable” meeting this month with Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the new director of the now-named Department of Labor, Economic Growth and Urban Development, David Hollister (though the topic of planned discussion is labor relations).

While many Grand Rapids business owners and leaders know well the findings related to a return to the urban core and the necessities which attract today’s “creative” labor force, how to achieve such a center and identification of missing elements would be crucial components to a downtown “blueprint.”

The city’s North Monroe Avenue and Michigan Street SmartZone budget provides funding for a Business Accelerator Center to offer new, high-tech companies assistance to access venture capital, and technology transfer to the marketplace, among other costs. It is interesting to note that the city’s research determined that high-tech company owners are unlikely to leave the cities in which they have engaged a business and lifestyle choice. One could assume the same for Grand Rapids as such businesses are established here.

Wheeler specifically noted that the Cherry Street Landing project targets the “back-to-urban-living wave,” as increasing numbers of people move back to the downtown to both live and work. Dan DeVos said there is a demonstrated need for the city to continue to fulfill what it can really be.

The critical (or creative) thinking accomplished as part of these projects is commended, and provides a foundation for another MEDC success.           

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