Arena South plan essential — especially for new stakeholders


As the recession ended, developers began promising a renewed emphasis in downtown Grand Rapids. The Business Journal has reported on several such projects, from Midtown to the southern edge of downtown.

Less than a year ago, the Downtown Development Authority indicated its continuing struggle with resolutions to provide new housing and methods to keep young professionals living in the core city. The expansion of design hub GRid70, announced last week, is an important asset in creating such opportunities.

The work of young professionals and business owners is noted in the story of the new vision for Arena South, but what the Business Journal believes to be most remarkable is the collaboration of a group of grassroots residents incorporating the views of the downtown college community.

The Arena South Visioning Plan is the result of a 15-member steering committee of downtown stakeholders who engaged the public in creating a plan. In fact, two draft options emerged from the engagements, put to paper at Williams & Works, Cornerstone Architects and Virdis Design.

Cornerstone Architects President Tom Nemitz emphasized: “We are careful not to indicate specific uses but to allow enough flexibility to envision a variety of uses as the actual market may dictate in the near, and not so near, future.”

That, too, is important for a generation that redefines the word “flexibility.”

Nemitz said members of the general public emphasized a need for connectivity throughout the Arena District, including the river, The Rapid station, Downtown Market, the Grandville corridor and the educational hubs of Cooley, Kendall and GVSU. The Visioning Plan incorporates and includes the college students populating these campuses.

Last month both Grand Rapids and Detroit were cited on the Forbes list of 15 U.S. Cities’ Emerging Downtowns. The most prosperous regions in the U.S. are anchored by vibrant core cities. Downtown Detroit Partnership, chaired in the immediate past by Roger Penske and Cynthia Pasky, has provided Motown with commitment and corporate moves into its core. It is important to note that the initiatives are targeted to improve city neighborhoods and support neighborhood development, creating inroads to voter behavior and sustained change for Detroit’s tarred political reputation.

What gives Grand Rapids a step up is that young professionals have been involved in the Arena South plan — and with that involvement they have staked their claim in the city’s future.

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