Confidence in the city remains high
Amid uncertainty following Grand Action shutdown, community leaders look to next steps.
Three local executives said they don’t know where the city is headed — but they agreed Grand Action has set the stage for future growth.
Steve Heacock, Mike Jandernoa and Sam Cummings have been champions of Grand Rapids during the past 25 years as the private sector Grand Action fundraising and planning committee applied the economic shock treatment that jolted the city back to life with the development of the arena district and Medical Mile.
Cummings, co-founder and principal of CWD Real Estate Investment, said recent transplants and young people who have grown up here live in a completely different city than he remembers.
“There are a handful of folks around who remember what the city was like before Van Andel Arena, and it was a very, very different place,” he said.
But it’s not going to stay that way without work, he said.
“In business and in life, as soon as you take your growth and momentum for granted, it goes away,” Cummings said. “I think that is a very dangerous attitude to have. And there is clearly a half-life to the philanthropy, but we cannot take any of that for granted — we need to be continually innovating and think about how you’re going to attract what’s next.
“There is no such thing as natural momentum — it always has a catalyst or impetus, and that needs to be constantly nurtured. And Grand Action represented that catalyst for a long time.”
Heacock, senior vice president of public affairs at Spectrum Health and a member of the Grand Action executive committee since the beginning, said there’s much work to be done, and he has some ideas about which projects should come first.
“We are absolutely ripe for Grand Action 2.0, given the (Grand Rapids) Whitewater (Project) intersection with a biotech economy and the emergence of housing projects downtown,” he said.
“For me, project-specific, Whitewater is top of the list and should be. We have an astounding amenity, this 18-foot drop in the river downtown (between Leonard and Fulton streets) that frankly no one else has. … It will take both private sector and government involvement to develop that.
“The second one is the work Grand Action and others helped start: Medical Mile with Michigan State (University College of Human Medicine Secchia Center) and Van Andel (Research Institute) at its core — that is really still in progress. The fruit of that, the biotech life sciences, all of that work is still coming, and people are excited by it and very oriented in getting that done over the next decade.”
Founder of Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring and former chair and CEO of Perrigo, Jandernoa said he believes the ideas that were floated in the Destination Asset Study released in December — the soccer stadium, convention center expansion, hotel and leveraging the Grand River — are possible to achieve but will take time and effort.
“The idea of expanding the convention center is clearly one (of the possibilities), but it’s complicated because of where the post office is, etc. A couple ideas of taking Grand Rapids to the next level are dependent upon putting a few dominoes in place,” he said.
“We’re positioned to continue that momentum, but my suspicion is it will be a little bit before that kicks back in.”
All three leaders said continued cooperation between the private and public sectors will be a key. Heacock said he is committed to participating in some capacity. Jandernoa said he would “very likely” play a role going forward.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Heacock said. “I believe it’s work that can be done better by the private and public sectors working together. I’m optimistic all that won’t be lost.”
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said she expects the public sector will continue to play a role.
“We are grateful for the incredible impact that Grand Action has had in our city,” Bliss said in a statement. “Grand Action laid the foundation for the strong public-private partnerships that shaped our city. This legacy will live on as we continue to work together as a community to meet the needs of our growing city.”
When it comes to funding possible new developments, Heacock, Cummings and Jandernoa cited the importance of philanthropy.
“My own perception is that philanthropy likely won’t wane,” Heacock said. “It may be less concentrated. We’ll start to look more like other communities in that respect, but there are still stunningly generous people here, including the folks who work at Grand Action. I don’t suspect that will change.”
Jandernoa said the giving will need to come from the next generation to keep the ball rolling.
“There’s been a lot of mentoring and examples set, so I’m sure the next generation will step up in time,” he said.
The Grand Action Committee won’t be the ones tapping the so-called “next generation,” Heacock said.
“It’s not going to be appointed by this group; it’s going to be self-identified,” he said. “People have stepped up as leaders, and my hope is that will continue to happen.”
Cummings said Grand Action’s years of devotion to the city’s growth are something that will be difficult to replicate. He added whoever takes up that challenge will need Grand Action involved in some way.
“I don’t know how they do that without the blessing and/or background or some of the guidance from Grand Action because it’s worked,” Cummings said. “If something works, why do you want to do it differently? We’re not perfect, there are always things that require work, but there’s no question that Grand Action was successful.”
Whatever happens with “Grand Action 2.0,” Cummings cautioned against underestimating the Grand Rapids community.
“I believe in this community and that there’s nothing that this community can’t do when it’s properly led and there is proper communitywide engagement,” he said. “I think we need to be conscious of nurturing our culture of philanthropy that Grand Action represented. But I still do believe that there’s nothing we can’t do when we are focused.”
Heacock added: “There was a time when Grand Rapids and Flint looked the same, and nobody would say that today. And it’s in part because of this triumvirate of leadership.”
— Former Business Journal reporter Jesse O’Brien contributed to this report.