Creston High closure could impact business district


An empty Creston High School would not be good for the business district as a whole, but owners in the area say they aren’t seeing much traffic from students right now anyway. Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Schools

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) While many parents in the Grand Rapids Public School district are up in arms about the possible closure of Creston High School, the businesses along the Plainfield corridor where the school sits are less concerned.

Though most of them say closing the school wouldn’t help the neighborhood, they also aren’t convinced it would have a dire impact on their businesses. That’s because several business owners within the vicinity of the school said that they don’t receive a great deal of business from Creston students or even their parents, so they don’t expect to see a large drop in sales if the school does close.

Of the approximately 600 students attending Creston High, only 44 percent are actually from the northeast side. The majority of students take the bus from other parts of Grand Rapids. Some students living in the neighborhood attend charter schools or other public schools in the suburbs.

Still, business leaders agree that in the long term, having a big, vacant building could be an issue for the wider community, and that could impact their businesses, eventually.

“If it was shuttered, that would leave a hole,” said Duane Culver, president of the Creston Business Association and president of Culver CPA Group. He agrees that the school district needs to do something to save money, however.

“I think it would be much better to find a use for the building, even if they can’t continue to use it as it has been used. I like the potential idea that City High could move over. . . . but I’ve also heard that doesn’t save the district as much money.

“Creston is a bigger facility, and a lot of nice athletic facilities are in there. It would be nice — I don’t know how big the need is because of some of the other public athletic facilities around, like the downtown YMCA — but certainly I think it would be nice if there’s a way that those facilities could be made available.

“What I see is possible potential for increased economic activity if you can find ways to use those facilities in other ways. Closing it, shuttering the whole thing — that would be really hard.”

Many people hope the district will shift to the City High Middle School/Creston High merger plan instead, even if it wouldn’t save the district as much. Creston Neighborhood Association Executive Director Deborah Eid said her organization is trying to work with the district to consider this plan more seriously.

Merging City High, which operates the International Baccalaureate program, with the traditional program at Creston would bring an additional 700 students to the school, bumping enrollment to around 1,100 students and bringing the school closer to its capacity, which is 1,397 students.

The higher number of students would likely help Sam Birgy, owner of Bentley’s Pizza. Birgy opened his pizza parlor this summer, almost across the street from the school. He said that he does see an influx of students following the school day and is concerned that losing them would be hard on his business. He already has mixed feelings about having opened up shop in the location.

Others, like Ron Block, who is on the board for Super Thrift, located in neighboring Cheshire Village, said that, long term, not having students could bring the rest of the neighborhood down, and he would prefer to see the school remain in use.

Eid agrees. She quickly points to property values and said that, without the school, the neighborhood no longer looks like a growing, vibrant community. She also thinks the neighborhood could begin to lose residents and potential residents, reducing the community’s much-needed tax base.

Many business owners point out that money already has been invested in updating Creston High, including its athletic facilities and an enhanced cafeteria, and say it seems foolish to have done all that and then turn around and leave the building empty. In addition, Plainfield Avenue just saw a nice infrastructure investment this summer.

“They spend all that money to spruce up the area and then they’re going to shut the school down and it’s going to sit empty,” said Eric Vorpi, owner of the Cheshire Grill. He also enjoys a small bump in business from Creston High teachers, administrators and bus drivers, though very little from students.

The Creston Business District and Creston Neighborhood Association have been working diligently on corridor improvement efforts they hope will spark growth in the business sector.

“We have been working for a couple of years now on a corridor improvement district, where we capture part of the property tax dollars to be able to make capital investments for the district,” Culver said. “We have that in place. We have a plan that we are putting forth. There’s a public hearing on that … but we’ve had a lot of business owners already making investments in their buildings.

“We are making some good progress. Things are headed in the right direction. After several years of work, we’ve seen a couple of successful things happen this last year. With the bio-retention island that we put in on Plainfield, that was a big project with the business community and neighborhood working together and with the city.”

Culver said there also has been increased dialogue between Creston Business District and Cheshire Village businesses. He thinks the neighborhood has a lot of business support and will prosper in the coming years.

Eid hopes that as the business district moves forward with its plans for improvements, additional retailers will take notice and join the community. It could fill another neighborhood need: jobs for high school students.

The GRPS board is scheduled to vote on the plan Dec. 17.

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