Bliss sets ‘bold goals’ for business
New mayor identifies neighborhood and sustainability actions in first State of the City address.
The iconic 1892-built Harris Building at 111 S. Division Ave. housed another historic event last week as the first female mayor of Grand Rapids delivered the State of the City address for 2016.
Throughout her speech, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss outlined the issues facing the city of Grand Rapids in the future and the initiatives to address the challenges and build upon an already “strong foundation with fertile soil.”
“Just like a tree, we are growing, expanding and branching out. These deep roots and a strong foundation have allowed us to weather some very rough storms,” said Bliss. “They are what will help us get through difficult times ahead. Working together, we will tackle the tough issues and overcome them.”
Teresa Weatherall Neal, who introduced Bliss and serves as superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, said Bliss has a commitment to the city, has worked tirelessly for families, neighborhoods and businesses, and wants to create an opportunity for a broader range of citizens.
“She knows how to work with partners, she gets things done, and she is an advocate for children and families,” said Neal. “She has dedicated her life to helping others and, as our mayor, she will leverage her experience as a city commissioner, a social worker, and all of the effort she has built in community relationships.”
Bliss said she wants Grand Rapids to be “the best place for businesses, both small and large, and where diverse local businesses can flourish.”
Some of the key objectives set for supporting businesses are: the creation of cultural districts in corridors such as Grandville Avenue and Southtown; reforming local policies to support entrepreneurs; amending the existing food truck ordinance; and working closely with the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Urban League and others to support minority- and women-owned businesses.
“Small businesses are the branches on which everything grows,” said Bliss. “They are key to our city’s economic strength and the source of energy needed to make our city and neighborhoods strong.”
Bliss also emphasized the importance of an individualized approach in supporting neighborhoods and plans to pursue the creation of a Neighborhood Matching Fund mini-grant to support improvement projects for different neighborhoods.
“This would create an innovative, creative way to empower people to come together to work on projects,” said Bliss. “These mini-grants could be used for planning, events, sprucing up buildings, building community gardens and creating public art.”
In terms of sustainability and environment, Bliss began by highlighting the progress the city has made toward improving the Grand River and the groundwork put in place with the recent adoption of the GR Forward Plan.
Some of the sustainability goals were: having 100 percent of energy from renewable resources by 2025; increasing recycling and reducing the amount of waste in landfills by having 60,000 recycling participants; having 100 miles of bike lanes in the city by 2017; growing the urban tree canopy to 40 percent; and ensuring there is a park within walking distance for children throughout the city.
“Parks breathe life into our city and provide substantial urban benefits,” said Bliss.
Bliss also announced plans for the city to partner with Grand Rapids Public Schools to enhance environmental education, increase awareness about the city’s and schools’ commitment to supporting local businesses, and a continued commitment to the school system to support access to quality education in a safe place.
Other highlights from the address were reducing a $30 million deficit at the city level to a balanced budget and a solid budget stabilization fund, continuing efforts to strengthen relationships between the Grand Rapids Police Department and the community, access to affordable and diverse housing options within the city, and creating a strategic action plan to address racial disparities in Grand Rapids.
“We must confront a difficult issue that has grown to an unacceptable proportion in our city,” said Bliss. “We have to learn to honestly assess our own biases, and know to what extent they have resulted in denying opportunities for others.”
To continue the city’s growth, Bliss indicated it is important to work together in collaboration and partnership to build toward the “bold goals” laid out for the city and broader community.
“As we look to the future, we want there to be more opportunity for our children. We want there to be greater equity, inclusion and economic opportunity. We want growing and thriving businesses. We want stronger neighborhoods. We want greener landscapes,” said Bliss.
“I am confident that all of us, working together, can build toward this vision.”