Shuttle Key To Downtown Efforts

September 10, 2007
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These are momentous times for Grand Rapids. Residents had plenty of reason to Celebrate on the Grand this past weekend. A community-wide event conceived in 1981 to mark the opening of the renovated Pantlind Hotel as the Amway Grand Plaza, the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the relocation of the Grand Rapids Art Museum were all symbols of a spirit that helped make this city a sparkling model for successful urban renewal and preservation.

That tradition, repeated over the years by significant projects such as Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place, continues this fall. The opening of the JW Marriott hotel and the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, renovations to the Civic Theatre building, and the new Grand Rapids Ballet Company performance space are recent examples of continuing renewal and growth, all likely adding to the number of visitors coming to this city.

The burgeoning economic thrust provided by the Michigan Street Medical Mile developments — promising lasting contributions from scientific researchers, medical and health care professionals, students and educators — will provide significant business travel to the region.

The good news is tempered by the usual bumps in the road (and not all caused by the busy construction crews dotting the landscape). That’s part of growing up. The Rapid transit system announced its Air Porter service will be downsized beginning Nov. 1 because it has not become self-sustaining since its debut it January 2005. It may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but it exemplifies the pinch of providing services for anticipated travel volume increases that are not yet realized. Stakeholders need to work closely together to build sensible cooperative ventures that will have long-term success. The public — including the traveling executive, convention attendee, cultural activities visitor and others — will demand that of this community in the long run, and preparations must continue.

It is ironic, and a bit troubling, that, on one hand, a long-awaited luxury hotel is opening in the heart of downtown that promises increasing numbers of visitors with healthy pocketbooks, and, at the same time, a sensible way to usher them from the airport to the central core is being cut back.

The Rapid has decided to scrap Air Porter runs completely between November and March and reduce service hours in the peak season, April 1-Oct. 31, to 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., according to Executive Director Peter Varga. The extent of the current financial subsidy might justify such a move, but estimates show that just 1.7 rides per hour would make the program completely self-sustaining. Contributions from local transit funds out of the general fund to keep the service is a good investment as this city continues to polish its image as a major player in the convention and tourism industry.

A direct public shuttle service between downtown and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is essential on Grand Rapids’ resume. It’s a service found in nearly every midsize city in the country.

It’s encouraging to see that city officials and the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau are stepping up their involvement in helping to market the service to generate increased ridership, especially among convention user groups that are more inclined to take advantage of such a service. These efforts need to be accelerated immediately, and funding sources also should be a discussion for stakeholders.

Banking on the enhanced recognition of the service by travelers also will help keep the motors running. More reason to celebrate.

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