Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss touted the achievements of the city, as well as the steps it needs to take to maintain healthy growth during her State of the City speech, held last week at the Intersection in downtown Grand Rapids.
In opening her speech, Bliss touted the momentum of the city’s strategic plan. For the past few months, City Manager Mark Washington has been working with city staff and the city planning commission on developing the plan, she said.
“This plan will be our guiding light and will serve as a blueprint for the work we have ahead,” Bliss said.
Looking back on 2018, Grand Rapids experienced Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing, a privately held pharmaceutical manufacturer, outgrowing its facility at 140 Front Ave. SW and building a new facility on Tolford Avenue SW. The project is expected to generate $63 million in investment and create 107 new jobs.
“They (GRAM) are creating new opportunities right here in the city that they are very proud to call home,” Bliss said. “This is a great example of the momentum that can happen when innovation leads opportunity.”
According to an earlier Business Journal report, GRAM’s last expansion was in 2014 with the addition of a 28,000-square-foot facility that provided more warehousing space, as well as a place for finishing activities. That building is at 837 Godfrey Ave. SW.
Bliss also brought attention to other major projects completed in 2018. Grand Rapids’ West Side saw the addition of Bridge Street Market at 405 Seward Ave. NW and West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology’s new headquarters next door at 614 First St. NW. Gordon Food Service also opened a “city grocery store” in Diamond Place Apartments at 1003 Michigan St. NE.
“They (GFS) entered a mixed-use, mixed-income development, which I believe is a strong model for future developments,” Bliss said.
Partners on the Diamond Place project previously told the Business Journal they chose to incorporate a grocery element to their development because the central city area is currently “a food desert.”
Several key projects also broke ground in 2018, like the multifaceted Studio Park at 123 Ionia Ave. SW, the joint Warner Tower and Hyatt Place Hotel project at 150 Ottawa Ave. NW, Embassy Suites at 710 Monroe Ave. NW and the redevelopment of the historic building at 50 Monroe Ave. NW.
Bliss also said 2019 will see Grand Rapids’ second bus rapid transit, the Laker Line, which hopes to provide yet another mobility option connecting residents to jobs, neighborhoods and downtown.
The addition of a new transit line comes at an opportune time, as the growth of the city and the downtown core continues to increase demand for greater mobility infrastructure.
Bliss called for an “all-of-the-above” mindset for mobility, including parking. The city anticipates approximately 2,500 new parking spaces are coming online to downtown in 2019.
The city also completed 51 miles of road construction last year and is looking at new ways to get employees to and from work. In 2018, the city enhanced the Downtown Area Shuttle services, resulting in a 30 percent increase in ridership and 160,000 total rides.
The greater Grand Rapids neighborhoods also are experiencing an infill of mixed-use projects, like Fulton Square at 1 Carlton Ave. SE, as well as Plaza Roosevelt along Grandville Avenue, currently underway.
The project features Habitat for Humanity Kent County’s affordable housing units and a new, 80,000-square-foot Grand Rapids Public Schools high school that will accommodate 500 students.
Other sub-projects include two mixed-use, three-story buildings on the north and south ends of the property by Dwelling Place; a 5,000-square-foot extension of Clinica Santa Maria; and the potential to expand the existing Cook Arts Center on the corner of Grandville Avenue and Graham Street.
Plaza Roosevelt is the result of a partnership between Habitat and other organizations, including Ferris State University, Dwelling Place, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Hispanic Center of West Michigan, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Clinica Santa Maria and the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association.
“This is what comprehensive community-driven development looks like,” Bliss said.
In 2018, the city awarded more than $65,000 through its Neighborhood Match Fund to 42 unique neighborhood projects, like the free “take a book, leave a book” library in Oakdale Park, or a community garden in Roosevelt Park.
“Strong neighborhoods bring people together, and they create opportunities for connections all around a shared love for where we live,” Bliss said.
While Grand Rapids is working well in many ways, as indicated by its current 3.1 percent unemployment rate, it’s not working well for everyone. Bliss brought attention to visible inequities along racial and ethnic lines that continue to be a problem for Grand Rapids.
Bliss said such inequalities impact the city’s economic vitality and basic quality of life.
“We must drive at a faster pace of positive change and momentum, especially in our historically marginalized communities,” Bliss said. “We need to support postsecondary degree attainment for people of color and first-generation students.”
To achieve this goal, the city promotes programs like “To College Through College,” a partnership between the city and Grand Rapids colleges to provide resources for all students, with a focus on first-generation and minority college students.
Bliss also called attention to the successful efforts of minority organizations like the Ferris State Latino Talent Initiative, Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber.
GRABB, for example, has assisted Reliable Medical Transport in securing a $250,000 small business loan to expand its fleet and service capacity.
According to a previous Business Journal report, GRABB assisted Reliable Medical Transport owner Richard Flowers in securing the loan through Northern Initiatives. Flowers said he plans to start a second transportation company, called R3 Logistics, in 2019.
Affordable housing also continues to be a critical issue for Grand Rapids, Bliss said. Despite some success in delivering new affordable housing inventory, the problem was deepened by the county’s decision to dissolve the Kent County Land Bank.
“The land bank has been a strong partner with the city, and they assisted us in securing over $1 million to demolish blighted properties,” Bliss said. “They assisted us in overseeing cleanup of contaminated sites and assisted in creating 195 affordable housing units over the last six years.”
The elimination of the land bank created a new gap in the city’s efforts to reach its affordable housing goals, Bliss said, but the city is working to identify a new approach and new tools to address continued demand for affordable and healthy homes.
A final key undertaking Bliss announced is the 2020 U.S. Census. While easy to underestimate, Bliss said the next census was an “enormously important” juncture for Grand Rapids.
“The tough job of ensuring everyone is counted, counted only once and counted in the right place is essential to good government,” Bliss said. “The information collected in the census is the starting point for determining how many seats we have in both the U.S. House and in Lansing.”
More than 300 federal and state programs rely on census data to determine funding to support community services, Bliss said.