Downtown Development Authority approves draft GR Forward plan


The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority voted today to accept the draft GR Forward plan and its six major goals, recommending the city initiate a required 42-day public review and comment period before the plan can be adopted.

The draft GR Forward plan received nearly full support, with the exception of DDA board member Jim Talen who voted no. He is also a Kent County Commissioner.

In registering his no vote, Talen said he was concerned the GR Forward plan does not fully address how the city would attain greater diversity and inclusion, which he noted had been two of the most-noted desires by citizens who weighed in during the public process.

“I do have a strong concern about the lack of spelling out in terms of the diversity,” Talen said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s nearly as directly addressed as many of the other things. It is a huge piece of what I envisioned this plan would create, a downtown that looks different than it does now. I don’t see how that is going to happen with this plan.”

Kris Larson, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and DDA board member, and Tim Kelly, DGRI planning manager, said diversity and inclusion efforts have been weaved throughout the entire plan and are included in all six of the key objectives.

GR Forward plan goals

The GR Forward process began in April 2014 and has included input from more than 3,600 members of the Grand Rapids community.

The 325-page draft plan includes six major goals, each with several recommendations for achievement.

Goal one involves restoring the river as the draw and creating a connected and equitable river corridor. In order to achieve this goal, the plan includes opportunities for integrating art, education, infrastructure and ecology.

Goal two involves the creation of a true downtown neighborhood with a diverse population and focuses on housing and retail growth with an eye toward reaching critical mass, or 10,000 people living downtown. Currently, downtown is home to less than half that number.

Goal three revolves around transit and the implementation of a 21st-century mobility strategy. The city of Grand Rapids Parking Commission has completed a study and been presented with a list of recommendations for achieving a successful multi-modal system downtown.

Goal four looks to expand job opportunities and support continued vitality of the local economy, with suggestions of identifying and preserving space for growth, increasing university and business partnerships and attracting professional and technical-focused employers downtown.

Goal five calls for investing in public spaces, which includes activating streets, programming a greater number of winter events and redeveloping Calder Plaza.

Goal six is to improve the Grand Rapids Public Schools system through more partnerships in the style of the Museum School, as well as expanding the Innovation Central theme school model.

Next steps

The draft plan is scheduled to go before the city planning commission on July 23 and before the city commission on July 28, opening the plan up to public comment from July 29 through Sept. 14.

The finalized plan will go before the city commission on Oct. 13, when commissioners will decide whether to adopt the plan as an amendment to the city’s Master Plan.

Larson said the final GR Forward plan will serve as an investment and coordinating guide for the DDA and other organizations around the city and will replace the previous plans, including Green Grand Rapids and Voices and Visions, which he noted has been “fully implemented.”

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