Street Talk

Street Talk: Defining downtown

State of the arts.

June 17, 2016
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As Meijer Inc. and Rockford Construction announced plans to bring a small Meijer grocery store concept to the West Side of Grand Rapids, a discussion erupted online.

The Business Journal ran an online story regarding the news and included the word “downtown” in the headline, which some people apparently took great offense to. They insisted it be called the West Side, and that such a project does not constitute filling a void for a “downtown” Grand Rapids grocery store.

That makes sense, as there is a Duthler’s Family Foods a block or two away from where the proposed Meijer entrance would be on Seward Avenue and Bridge Street NW. That also raises the question of how many near-downtown grocery stores there are when people whine about having to drive to Meijer across the city?

Quite a few, actually. There’s Duthler’s on Bridge Street and another on the corner of Hall Street and Madison Avenue. There’s Ralph’s on Leonard Street, as well as Kingma’s on Plainfield Avenue.

But we digress.

Is a five-minute walk from City Hall — which is what this Meijer would be — really outside of “downtown,” especially to people who are used to living in the suburbs?

It sure seems that would be close enough to service many downtown residents. If the corner of Bridge and Seward is too far from the “core city,” then is the Downtown Market really downtown?

So let’s let Mayor Rosalynn Bliss clear up the downtown definition — sort of.

“As our city grows, so does our sense of downtown — and I think that’s great,” Bliss said in an email to the Business Journal. “The river for so long has divided us and shaped our perception of downtown. The development and redevelopment taking place in our city is changing that — and that’s certainly something we should all celebrate.”

So there you have it — or not.

Look both ways

Which Kent County intersections are most prone to auto accidents?

According to information gathered for 2015 by the attorneys from Michigan Auto Law with help from the Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Reporting Unit, five of the 10 most dangerous intersections are on 28th Street.

“Our hope is that by identifying which Kent County intersections had the most overall crashes, drivers can use extra caution when driving in these areas. This data includes any intersection that has a traffic signal, four-way stop or roundabout,” said Steven Gursten, an attorney with Michigan Auto Law.

And the “winners” are: U.S. 131 and Wealthy Street (69 crashes); U.S. 131 and Burton Street (66); 28th Street and Breton Road (61); 28th Street and Eastern Avenue (58); 28th Street and East Paris Avenue (58); 28th Street and Broadmoor/Beltline avenues (57); Beltline Avenue and I-96 (54); 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue (53); I-196 and U.S. 131 (52); and 44th Street and Clyde Park Avenue (51).

“The Kent County intersection with the most automobile accidents in 2015 is a busy area with on/off ramps to U.S. 131. When adding up all crashes, not only where Wealthy Street goes over the highway but also the entrance and exit ramps, there were a total of 69 auto accidents last year,” Gursten said. “This interchange also had the most injury accidents in the county last year, with 26 crashes.”

In terms of crash volume, however, 28th Street takes the cake.

“As you can see, 28th Street is the busiest major road in Grand Rapids, with lots of cars entering and exiting from numerous business driveways. It also consistently shows up on our top 10 list for car crashes every year. All three of these intersections had more than 50 accidents each and demonstrate how high speeds plus heavy traffic usually equals more auto accidents compared to other areas,” he said.

“Converting this street into a divided highway may alleviate some of the injury crashes, but to date, there does not appear to be any plan to change the flow of traffic.”

Food for thought

Greenville High School sophomore Tom Stephenson feels strongly about hunger. He sees it among his peers.

“I’ve heard from the lunch ladies that if they have extra food they’ll give it to the kids in need,” he said, “and I’ve seen kids waiting to get their breakfast in the morning because they don’t have anything to eat, and it’s hard to look at.”

That’s why Stephenson and fellow members of the Greenville Youth Advisory Council chose to fund monthly food distributions at their school and at two other sites in Greenville for an entire year. Each Mobile Food Pantry from Feeding America West Michigan will provide 5,000 pounds of fresh produce, dairy, baked goods and other foods to students, their families and people in need from the community.

The funding comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where GYAC, part of the Greenville Area Community Foundation, has an endowment. GYAC is providing $19,620 to support the Mobile Pantry program at Greenville High School, the Church of the Nazarene and the American Legion.

More than 22 percent of children struggle with hunger in Montcalm County, according to FAWM. That puts parents in tough situations.

“To to have to choose between [food] and taking your kid to the doctor because they have an ear infection, I think that’s a really tough choice people shouldn’t have to make,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson believes mobile pantries can alleviate some of the pressure on struggling families because, while free and reduced-price meals serve students at school, mobile pantries provide food for the entire family after school.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have a partner this focused and motivated to get food to people in their community,” said Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan. “Our whole team has been impressed by the sincerity and the generosity of these students. We’re proud to fight hunger alongside them.”

Mobile pantries at Greenville High School will take place on the third Monday of each month. The next is scheduled for 4 p.m., Monday, June 20.

Arts craft

West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology recently picked up national and state grants worth thousands of dollars.

The grants will provide Grand Rapids Public Schools high school students the opportunity to get experience in design thinking, video production and visual arts.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded WMCAT a $15,000 grant to advance creative skills in design and visual arts for high school students during the 2016-17 school year. That money will support students learning about photography, illustration, fashion design, ceramics, video game design and audio/video production. This will be done through the WMCAT Teen Arts + Tech Program, which fosters creative confidence in students by giving them a chance to work alongside peers, professional artists and community partners.

WMCAT also received a Heritage Grant for $23,300 fromthe Michigan Humanities Council. The grant will support creation of a documentary about how African-Americans contributed to Grand Rapids’ music scene during the latter half of the 20th century. The film will be written, shot and edited by a team of advanced video production students from WMCAT working under the guidance of teaching artist and film producer Mike Saunders. WMCAT hopes to debut the film early next year.

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