A group that is guiding downtown development and riverfront activation efforts in Grand Rapids hired a former city of Grand Rapids economic development executive as its next leader.
Grand Action 2.0 said Tuesday, May 31, it hired Kara Wood, former managing director of economic development for the city of Grand Rapids, as its next executive director.
She will succeed current Executive Director Jon Nunn on July 5.
Grand Action 2.0 (GA2.0) is a business-based nonprofit formed in 2020 to identify transformational downtown Grand Rapids building and revitalization projects, galvanize support for the projects, and develop and help implement public/private funding strategies to get them done.
It is the successor organization to Grand Action, which was founded in 1993 and helped drive development of the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, Civic Meijer Majestic Theatre, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market.
The combined cost of these five projects was $420 million, $130 million of which was raised through private philanthropy.
GA2.0 is co-chaired by Dick DeVos, Carol Van Andel and Tom Welch.
Wood’s hiring is the result of a monthslong transition plan and executive search, the organization said.
“Jon has served as an exemplary chief of staff,” DeVos said. “For nearly 30 years — first with Grand Action and then with GA2.0 — he has advanced our vision and helped guide both Grand Action and the community through the successful completion of several transformational projects. … On behalf of my fellow co-chairs, I extend our deep gratitude to Jon for all he has contributed.”
Wood will join GA2.0 following three years as associate vice president for community partnerships in the Office of Government Relations at Western Michigan University. Prior to that, she served the city of Grand Rapids for 12 years, first as economic development director, then managing director of economic development and Mobile GR Parking Services. Before her tenure with the city, Wood worked for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
“With 22 years of experience in urban economic development, government relations and community development, Kara is well-prepared to take the reins,” Van Andel said. “She knows the people, the processes and how to forge the kind of public-private partnerships required to take the initiatives currently underway to the finish line. We’re very happy to welcome her aboard.”
The transition comes as GA2.0, the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County are engaged in planning for a 31-acre riverfront development along Market Avenue, a downtown amphitheater and a professional soccer stadium, on which the Business Journal previously reported.
“The initiatives that Grand Action 2.0 is leading will have a generational impact throughout West Michigan,” Wood said. “I’m excited to leverage my experience, relationships and passion for the Grand Rapids community to advance this work. It will be an honor to lead the implementation of Grand Action’s vision for the benefit of all.”
When Wood starts in July, her focus will be to advance the amphitheater proof of concept with Rosetti and Progressive AE. Nunn will provide consultation throughout the transition.
“I’ve worked with Kara for many years on prior Grand Action projects,” Nunn said. “I have the utmost respect for her, for the skillsets she brings from the public sector and for her deep commitment to this community. I’m confident that I will leave this position in capable hands. As I close this exciting chapter, I thank Dick DeVos, Carol Van Andel, Tom Welch, David Frey and the late John Canepa for their trust, and I look forward to remaining involved in this vibrant community.”
Welch said the timing of this transition is important.
“We began discussing a succession plan shortly after relaunching Grand Action in 2020,” he said. “Projects of the magnitude we were about to undertake would require years to complete. Jon has done terrific work for nearly three decades. Now, as we look at the decade to come, we agreed that it made sense to bring on an executive director who can take ownership early on and help lead these projects to fruition. Kara is the right person for the job.”
As the amphitheater takes shape, it is expected to ignite additional development at the Market Avenue site, according to GA2.0.
“While the impact of the amphitheater and riverfront development will be transformational for our region, it also promises to reposition Grand Rapids as a premier destination for businesses, employees and visitors from throughout the U.S.,” said David Frey, GA2.0 vice chair.