Arena South: Good Plan, but the process is the sustainable element


The Arena South Visioning Plan has been adopted by the Downtown Development Authority and now will be presented to the Grand Rapids Planning Commission. The DDA will use the extensive report as a guidebook for projects in the Arena South vicinity of the downtown. There are several plaudits that might be used for plan itself, but it is particularly notable for the grass-roots effort that worked in partnership with city and business leaders. Such partnerships are rarely recognized for the foundational strength given the community but have been key in city neighborhood development areas. Arena South, however, is a highly visible project, and one that will influence leagues of city visitors as well as downtown tenants and residents.

It is this type of partnership — as well as the public/private partnerships — that will continue to enable the city’s ability to attract new business and new talent. These are the same initiatives that mark the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For: inclusiveness, group problem solving and guidance for individual initiatives. These are the companies continuing to build the talent pool in West Michigan. One such story is reported on page 14.

In his blog at, developer Derek Coppess commented, “We are at a point where our city is full of forward-thinking leaders who have servant hearts. Developers who collaborate and follow through. And thousands of young, creative millennials waiting for us to build more residential apartments. The talent is here — it’s just looking for a reason and place to stay.” Coppess owns 616 Development and last month was named the Downtown Alliance Emerging Entrepreneur. He also commented that current decisions by city leaders are “incremental steps towards becoming a city that is a global model.”

The city’s “servant” philosophy, too, is at the heart of its continued success. The Commercial Association of Realtors first-quarter report noted the number of new projects in the downtown. More than half of the market’s office buildings changed owners within the last year, and CAR reported that led to repositioning those structures. Further, many of those have been purchased by business owners, rather than leased. The CAR report also demonstrates the “domino effect” of such impact: as demand exceeds inventory retailers are spreading out into “secondary markets … like Plainfield Avenue.” The report also found similar growth patterns in Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon and Kalamazoo.

Arena South may be a good plan, but it was the process that gives it sustainability. It’s a plan owned by many, not a few.

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