No Small Players In The Neighborhoods

November 14, 2005
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The importance of city and state Brownfield Redevelopment Act and Renaissance Zone designations and the domino effect of those tax “breaks” were abundantly clear last week as the city gathered to recognize and celebrate the bedrock of business in the community: The neighborhood businesses, some of which were individually recognized but which collectively provide might, less blight, throughout the urban area.

The Neighborhood Business Alliance and its sister organization the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program have proven since inception in 1989 to be the secure foundation by which success begets success, and upon which young entrepreneurs build dreams into businesses. The group, founded by former Grand Rapids Mayor Gerald Helmholdt, sponsored its annual Neighborhood Business Awards last week, two of which included properties developed using brownfield tax incentives.

The evening before the awards were presented — which turned out to be the evening before Ed De Vries was bestowed the group’s highest honor or even knew of it — the developer held an open house for one of his most ambitious projects: Clear Water Place, 1430 Monroe Ave. NW, a former city water filtration plant property. DeVries assured the character and architecture of the building constructed in 1910 would be preserved, and it is listed on the national and state registries of historic sites. Its new tenants include NTH Consultants Ltd. and Pinnacle Insurance Partners, a business that has grown 500 percent in four years and previously split office space between the city and Caledonia. But De Vries used the occasion of an open house as a benefit for Grand Rapids Public Schools Student Advancement Fund. In just one project, De Vries brought suburban offices into the city, restored a historic city building (used at one time as a dumping ground), provided neighborhood pride and incentives to others, and helped maintain and improve the property values of all those surrounding it.

The Neighorhood Business Awards and association provide those values to 20 business districts in the city. Locally owned Mercantile Bank also was honored last week with the Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Prize for its agreement to put its $12 million corporate headquarters on a brownfield site, at Leonard and Scribner, rather than use a suburban location.

Each of the business entities contributing to such city strength are reported on page 9. None of these are any more or less important than the new business, Wealthy At Charles, a new urban home and garden shop at 738 Wealthy St. SE, brought by two entrepreneurs who had “previous” careers with Spectrum Health and Meijer (also on page 9). It’s the new entrepreneurs and their brainchild companies that will strengthen the neighborhood business districts.

De Vries, making brief remarks during the open house at Clear Water Place, retold the story of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who while touring a school in Texas, asked of the custodian seen sweeping floors, “What are you doing?” to which the custodian replied, “We’re getting ready to send a man to the moon.”

It is the cooperative effort, and everyone’s part in it, that makes the point of there being no small players, but a community full of active players.    

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