Focus, Economic Development, and Government

Grand Rapidians can expect a changing landscape

2016 will bring leadership transitions and continued development.

December 25, 2015
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The city of Grand Rapids is “ringing in the New Year” with a transition of leadership, as Rosalynn Bliss assumes the mayoral role Jan. 1, Dave Allen becomes Third Ward Commissioner, and Jon O’Connor takes on the role of a First Ward Commissioner. Bliss’ new leadership role also results in a vacancy in the Second Ward for the City Commission.

Suzanne Schulz, planning department director for the city of Grand Rapids, said that while having three new city commissioners for 2016 will be a challenge, she is excited about the city’s planned investment in the river, providing a multi-modal city for the community, and “the cranes in the sky.”

“I love seeing cranes — seeing more development and really growing the city to be able to have the amenities that people want,” said Schulz. “As we continue to see growth, those cranes in the sky is what that means: dollars into the community and the ability to provide those goods and services, whether it is a grocery store or transit.”

Schulz said Grand Rapids could experience a lot more development in the coming year, expanding into areas such as the Creston neighborhood, the near west side, and along the South Division corridor.

“I think we are going to see growing interest along the South Division corridor as we commence a corridor plan for that area, much like we had for Michigan Street,” said Schulz. “When you see the growth that is happening along Michigan Street today, a lot of that was part of the vision of the corridor plan,” she said. “The development community has responded to it and the neighborhood had a voice in creating that vision. We see the same thing happening for Division, as well.”

The type of development, especially along major streets in the Grand Rapids area, may follow the pattern of the recently announced project at 234 Market Ave. SW. Maplegrove Development plans to redevelop the existing facility into an 11-story mixed-used building with residential and commercial space.

“It is going to certainly be more mixed-use development with high-density residential development and more retail on ground floors,” said Schulz. “(It is) likely also additional residential development on large parcels of land that may be remaining in the city, or some redevelopment.”

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund recently recommended its list of recreational development projects to the state legislature for approval, which included a $7.5 million grant application by the city of Grand Rapids for the acquisition of 3.68 acres in the Monroe North area to support the Grand River Rapids Restoration project.

“Seeing the parcel develop into a park, the changes in the floodwalls, the addition of trails, the enhancements along the entire river — and development along it — will be extremely exciting,” said Schulz.

As development continues in the city, Schulz said a challenge will be to provide a climate that is predictable and fair for the development community as well as the neighborhoods, so they can work with developers to have “a win-win situation.”

“Those tensions will always be there — they have always been there and they are going to get a little bit stronger because of the speed at which change is occurring in the city,” said Schulz.

“We are seeing a lot of things picking up and moving quite quickly, and trying to do that in a space where the development community and the neighborhoods can work together and feel confident they are making the best decisions in real time,” she said.

With the completion of the GR Forward process, Schulz said the focus going forward will turn to the South Division corridor: conversations around equity, how to leverage the community’s vision of having a strong transit-oriented development corridor, and how to facilitate development there.

“Right now, with Michigan Street, we are seeing the development but we need the transit, and it is almost the opposite on Division where we are seeing the transit and now need the development,” said Schulz.

“The juxtaposition between those two corridors, I think, will be extremely interesting, and the community engagement piece will be absolutely critical to have that dialogue about the needs of the community that surround that corridor.”

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