Burton Gets New Vitality

July 27, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Macatawa Bank Corp. is teaming up with a neighborhood economic development organization to help revitalize the Burton Heights business district, which is home to more than 200 small businesses.

Both Macatawa and Neighborhood Ventures, a business advocacy organization comprised of 20 neighborhood business districts in the core city, will provide financial support for storefront façade improvements in Burton Heights. The objective is to attract new businesses to the district and market the neighborhood as a great place to live, work and shop.

Macatawa will offer more than $140,000 in micro-loans towards the revitalization effort, as well as provide technical assistance to businesses in the district. Micro-loans will be available not only for façade improvements, but also other building improvements that add to the area’s attractiveness, said Kenia Villarreal, business development officer for Macatawa. 

Neighborhood Ventures will invest $60,000 in business recruitment and retention efforts, in marketing and branding of the district, and in business training classes for neighborhood business owners, said Kimberly Van Dyke, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures. Some of the money will also be doled out through the organization’s Face Forward Façade Improvement Grant program, which provides small grants of up to $4,000 for storefront upgrades and the restoration of historic features on old buildings. The grants are funded by Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Macatawa Bank, Van Dyke noted.

Neighborhood Ventures, along with stakeholders in Burton Heights, will lead efforts to remove trash, beautify the neighborhood, and promote sustainable building and landscaping principals. Van Dyke said they’ll likely market the business district with a combination of banners, bike racks and cooperative advertising that underscores the “flavor” of the area.

A committee comprised of Burton Heights business owners and residents will drive the marketing and branding effort, she said. 

Garfield Development Corp., Garfield Park Neighborhood Association and the Burton Heights Business Association are also partners in the project. Van Dyke said the three organizations will work on improving the affordable housing stock: They’ll purchase and rehab houses using Michigan State Housing Development Authority grants and resell them to lower-income, first-time buyers.

The Burton Heights neighborhood is bounded by Division Avenue on the east, U.S. 131 on the west, Cottage Grove on the north and 28th Street on the south. Most of the businesses in the district cater to residents of the neighborhood.

More than 8,500 people live in the Burton Heights area, and upwards of 60 percent of them are Hispanic. It’s a very unique population, Villarreal noted.

However, the business climate in Burton Heights suffers from deteriorating infrastructure and negative perceptions, Van Dyke said.

“As with many communities, the more traditional business districts have declined as shopping, dining and services have moved out to the suburbs,” Van Dyke observed. “But in the last decade, urban has become cool again. We hope to take advantage of this new attitude and bring renewed attention — and new visitors — to this wonderful neighborhood.”

Neighborhood Ventures presented the idea to Macatawa Bank President Phil Koning and other bank officials late last year. The bank officials were impressed with the project and the opportunity to lend a hand in the community, Villarreal said.

Koning said his company is pleased to partner with Neighborhood Ventures because the bank recognizes the “vital importance” that neighborhood businesses play in the life of a community.  

About 10 of Burton Heights’ core business owners assisted Neighborhood Ventures in getting the project off the ground, Van Dyke said. The next step is to engage more and more business owners.

She anticipates the revitalization project will take about three years.

Villarreal and a representative of Neighborhood Ventures will go store-to-store to assess the needs of individual businesses and provide them with any assistance or service they need to become successful, she said. Some may need help with their business plan or may need some type of business training, or perhaps just a few financial pointers. The whole idea is to help them become more savvy business owners, she said. Villarreal works out of the Macatawa branch at Breton Avenue and Burton Street, which is near the Burton Heights area.

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