Arts Culture Keys To District

October 10, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although the conference didn’t lay out the details of how to build an entertainment district, seminars hosted by the International Downtown Association (IDA) revealed that the arts, cultural events and, to a lesser extent, retail are vital to shaping a thriving sector.

“If it has a wide range of activities, that is when it’s most successful,” said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the city’s Downtown Improvement District and the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program.

Evoy and Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Jay Fowler recently returned from an IDA conference held in Cleveland.

“Jay and I were really interested in anything having to do with entertainment districts, especially because the city is getting ready to write this RFP (request for proposal),” said Evoy.

The city is looking to hire a consultant with experience in entertainment districts to help develop an implementation plan for one here. The contract is worth $80,000, with half of the money coming from the DDA and half from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Evoy explained that culture, the arts, and retail create daytime traffic in a district, making the sector active all day long and not just at night when a concert is scheduled or a game is being played. She added that what they heard at the conference was similar to what was in a local study released last year for setting up an entertainment district along Ionia Avenue.

“We didn’t hear anyone at the conference say they were looking at bringing in a department store into their downtown because they think that will change things around,” said Evoy.

“But they were looking at some retail that could help a district and that they could cross-market,” she added.

Fowler said art galleries and bookstores are the type of retail that fit neatly into an entertainment district.

“Art galleries are often a part of this,” he said “Today, shopping is considered a form of entertainment, like the bookstores that offer concerts and cafes. Going to the bookstore is an experience related to entertainment, I think.”

Fowler said he also learned that each district has to be tailored for each city and that the most successful ones tie together the arts and entertainment. Doing that, he said, seems to help establish a downtown as an entertainment destination.

“I think that is very important for us to do here in Grand Rapids, where the arts are so very important,” he said.

Evoy said she would be contacting the IDA for further information on entertainment districts. But at the same time, she felt that much of the foundation for one here was already in place.

“How lucky are we that we have this wonderful arena and these restaurants and bars that have come downtown? How lucky are we to have The BOB, to have Bar Divani, and all of these things that are down here, and to be able to use these as a base to build from?”

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