Evolution of Michigan Street corridor increasingly profound

October 23, 2011
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The Michigan Street Corridor Study currently in process by the city of Grand Rapids is as important as the $1 billion in investments that changed its persona to the Medical Mile and changed the face of several neighborhoods, especially as continued investment currently in discussion jumps north of the I-196 Ford Freeway. The fact is that the study comes almost too late, as was noted many times during the 10 years of development.

While neighborhood associations, especially the revered Heritage Hill neighborhood, lament the loss of service sector businesses such as grocery stores to a wall of medical and research buildings, it must be emphasized that such development has become the bedrock of a new leg of the regional economy. The breadth of the impact of a single mile extends to manufacturing and pharmacology and science and technology businesses throughout the West Michigan region.

The study to date has inserted facts in place of perceptions, facts that are likely to create new opportunities for developers — and residents. These also are the type of facts that provide reasonable comparisons to other communities.

The study has revealed the following facts about the four-mile sector between Leonard and Fulton, from East Beltline Avenue to the Grand River:

  • 50,000 people each day come to the 50-acre sector to work or attend school.

  • More than 30,000 vehicles travel the corridor daily.

  • Just 3 percent of those employed in the Medical Mile health care facilities live in the area.

  • One-third of the new resident population has come from outside the city.

City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz told the Business Journal those characteristics offer a comparison: “It’s the same number of people they have in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood.”

It may not be surprising to note that housing demand in the area is “huge” and supported by employment data. Resolution of that need is very likely to increase city personal income averages and statistical education attainment levels. 

As noted here last week, the Michigan Future Inc. report analyzing evidence of the tie of knowledge economy jobs to job growth and creation is conclusive. The study also showed that Grand Rapids ranked 54 among 55 U.S. metro areas in per capita income and 44 in college attainment. Detroit’s rankings were 41 and 39, respectively. Michigan as a whole dropped an unprecedented 19 places in nine years in college attainment levels.

The importance of work to create a livable, sustainable area in the city’s most famous corridor is underscored as one understands the value of what has already come to exist and ponders ways to help it flourish. Even as the city study concludes, it will be important to encourage charettes for the next phase of development.

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