Street Talk: ArtPrize feeling footloose


Dan Vos, right, accepts the MCOY Award. Photo by Ehren Wynder

ArtPrize saw more foot traffic than ever this year, and six pedestrian counters were stationed throughout downtown to track it all.

The international art competition held annually in downtown Grand Rapids ran from Sept. 20 to Oct. 8 and garnered 384,053 votes overall to award $500,000 in prizes to the winning artists.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the management entity for the Downtown Development Authority; the Downtown Improvement District; and the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority, put in place six pedestrian traffic counters before the competition to keep track of how many people were moving from place to place.

Stephanie Wong, a project specialist at DGRI, presented the findings at the DDA board meeting Oct. 11.

She said the counters were located at the Blue Bridge, Bridge Street and Mount Vernon Avenue, South Division Avenue and Oakes Street, Fulton Street and Ionia Avenue, Ottawa Avenue and Lyon Street, and Pearl Street and Monroe Avenue.

Last year, the pedestrian traffic count during ArtPrize was 559,195 individuals. This year, the number was 665,467.

The largest concentration of foot traffic was at the corner of Pearl and Monroe — which logged 382,499 visitors, up over 210,946 last year. On the busiest single day recorded, 37,033 people crossed paths at that intersection.

Wong said the traffic was not all because of ArtPrize — but given the stretch of several days with 95-degree temperatures, the buzz certainly trampled all expectations.

Generation why

Fifth Third Bank – West Michigan is walking the walk when it comes to appealing to millennials.

In addition to adding a maternity concierge to aid new parents with work-life balance, the bank’s recently redesigned office inside the Fifth Third Center at 111 Lyon St. NW is attracting young employees who might otherwise never have considered a career in banking.

Tom Welch, regional president of Fifth Third Bank – West Michigan, said he has given multiple tours to young people lately who comment how “hip” the workspace feels.

“If you go back a couple of years, and you were to walk into this bank, you would see your grandfather’s bank,” he said. “Mahogany doors, enclosed spaces — you would work in silos.

“We launched an employee workspace program moving from region to region where we are completely redoing how we work.”

He said the new template for all branches is an “open collaboration workspace environment” in which the latest technology is deeply central, and desk assignments are a thing of the past.

“People are free to roam and work as they feel comfortable working,” he said. “There are no assigned offices; people are given a laptop, and there are shared working spaces,” i.e., spaces for collaboration, team meetings or large-group meetings.

“We know that millennials do not want to walk in, sit at an office desk and work there the whole day,” he said.

“We have received positive feedback from the millennial generation (about the new setup), but what’s interesting is we’ve also received positive feedback from the older generation. We believe this will set us apart as an employer of choice for the millennial generation, as well as everyone else in the workspace.”

Added Laura Passerallo, vice president and regional communications manager for Fifth Third: “It’s among all the other things we’ve being doing for millennials,” such as a service for all employees (separate from the maternity concierge) that offers help with tasks such as oil changes, researching travel, picking up and dropping off dry cleaning — even getting a chainsaw repaired.

What will they think of next?

Four is more

A West Michigan construction company is savoring its fourth recognition from the American Subcontractors Association of Michigan.

Dan Vos Construction last month picked up the Michigan Contractor of the Year award from ASAM, the fourth time the Ada-based general contractor earned the honor in the award’s eight-year history.

The MCOY recognizes general contractors and construction managers with a track record of best practices, professionalism and collaboration within the subcontracting community.

“Dan Vos Construction should celebrate the fact that this award was, in reality, given to them by their trade contractors,” said Chris Weaver, president of ASAM. “They were voted as the very best by the same people they work with day in and day out.”

The recognition did not go unnoticed.

“I just think it's amazing again that we won,” said Dan Vos, president and CEO. “It really just speaks to our team and who we are and what we do every day. It's a great group of guys and gals. I can thank ASAM for the award and raising the bar for us.”

What’s your sign?

One of downtown Grand Rapids’ most visible landmarks recently got an upgrade.

Earlier this month, Varnum law firm completed an upgrade to the font and color of the “Varnum” lettering on both sides of the firm’s 17-story tower at 333 Bridge St. NW, the lower tower connected to the Bridgewater Place.

The sign is visible from east and westbound I-196 and aerial photographs of the city.

Tamara Bergstrom, marketing manager, said after the sign was initially replaced on Sept. 18 following a windstorm, some of the bulbs didn’t work and didn’t have continuity of color, so Varnum continued the upgrade into early October.

“The firm had been in the process of updating the lighting on the existing sign to make it brighter,” Bergstrom said. “When a windstorm this spring damaged the ‘V’ on the east side of the building, we decided to use the opportunity to update the entire sign rather than just fix the damaged letter. This allowed us the opportunity to bring the building sign in line with a new logo design.”

Varnum’s graphic designer, Kim VanderLende, worked with Warren-based Metro Signs and Lighting on the project.

The letters are seven feet tall and are comprised of 1,000 LED bulbs.

Tom Kyros, Varnum executive partner, said the firm is proud of its iconic presence in the city skyline.

“When we put our name on the building in 2001, it caused a stir both inside Varnum and in the community,” he said. “Some people didn’t think it was appropriate for a law firm to engage in that kind of ‘advertising.’ Now, such signage is common among law firms.”

Bergstrom said the amount of community feedback Varnum received after the wind damage was surprising.

“Some of the calls were a little embarrassing, but it has been worth it,” she said. “We’re now receiving many positive calls, emails and comments.

“We hope the level of attention is, in part, because people feel some ownership of it and look at it as a public landmark rather than just a private sign.”

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