GR Forward is now open for business


DGRI President Kris Larson, right, talks to Assistant Grand Rapids Planning Director Jay Steffen outside the GR Forward Open House center at 50 Louis St. Photo by Pete Daly

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. has opened its temporary GR Forward Open House center in downtown Grand Rapids, where the public can learn about plans for the future of downtown as well as the Grand River corridor and GR Public Schools Museum School and Innovation Central High.

DGRI also has launched its website, which allows the public to “help shape the future of downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River corridor.”

The GR Forward Open House will be open to casual visitors Thursday through Saturday from 3-7 p.m. until Nov. 21, and will permit them to provide their own thoughts and ideas on how they would like to see downtown Grand Rapids develop in coming years.

Last week at a special event at GR Forward for the news media, representatives of two consulting firms explained in detail how the year-long development plan is studying both the downtown and the river corridor for development potential that could boost the city economy.

Mayor George Heartwell said the planning process, involving DGRI as well as the city planning department, “allows us to think about the future of the city and examine the potential of transformative projects for Grand Rapids. As an economic center for the region, we have the honor and responsibility of examining new and existing opportunities related to economic development, the Grand River, education, housing and transportation.”

GRPS School Board President Wendy Falb stressed the importance of a connected planning effort for the downtown.

“When the entire public has the opportunity to share in the future of their city, it creates ownership and a shared sense of purpose. As the planning process for GR Forward continues, each interaction point will enrich the outcome, generating enthusiasm for the future of our city and building strong connections between our varied communities,” said Falb.

Kristopher Larson, president and CEO of DGRI, said the organization is “encouraging the community to take part in this effort so they can see their thoughts translated into action items. This level of open dialogue and community involvement prompts the passion and action that thriving cities, like Grand Rapids, want to continue to foster.”

Volunteer steering committees are involved in guiding the process, each focusing on specific areas for the broader plan. Additional community engagement efforts will take place through the spring, including activities at local events and presentations at various community committees and volunteer teams.

There is contact with other communities, including Walker, that are also on the Grand River, with the goal of public enhancements along the river being continuous.

Scott Bishop of consulting firm Stoss Landscape Urbanism in Boston said surveys show Grand Rapids residents believe the city’s most valuable asset is the Grand River, so the planning is aimed at maximizing that value.

Another speaker last week was Chris Muller of Grand Rapids Whitewater, which is supporting a proposal to restore the river’s rapids. That major change is seen as having the potential to attract sport kayakers to Grand Rapids from across the nation.

The plan is being funded by DGRI, the city of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Parking Commission, GR Public Schools, Dyer-Ives Foundation, GR Community Foundation and the Frey Foundation.

Scott Page of Interface Studio in Philadelphia, the other main consultant for the GR Forward plan along with Bishop, said “critical mass” will involve a setting that encourages “continuous investment” in downtown, which has been the case for a number of years. However, he noted other U.S. cities are doing the same to attract more leisure traffic and talented professionals as permanent residents, so “we need to grow more here.”

The planning began in the spring and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2015.

The temporary drop-in center for the public is in ground floor space donated by CWD Real Estate in the CWD building at 50 Louis St. However, the public entrance to GR Forward is around the corner on Ionia Street near Fulton.

DGRI is the management organization for programs and projects under the overall direction of the city’s Downtown Development Authority.

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