Letter: Downtown Grand Rapids is moving forward, not backward



A public discussion 18 months in the making moves to a climatic stage in December, as the Grand Rapids City Commission considers adopting a 10-year community plan and investment strategy to transform the Grand River into a distinct asset and support the next generation of growth in downtown Grand Rapids — which anchors one of the fastest growing regions in the United States.

In a published Nov. 16 Grand Rapids Business Journal editorial (“City’s transformation of business district to residential has consequential ramifications”), the Journal’s editors call into question the GR Forward Action Plan and misrepresent the collaborative, inclusive and extensive engagement process managed in conjunction by three key partners: the city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Yes, DGRI headed the administration of the GR Forward process; however, all three organizations, with guidance from four steering committees with 145 members, more than 4,400 citizens, businesses, institutions, developers and other stakeholders, directly shaped this strategic plan through their wonderful ideas, insightful comments and positive encouragement.

All stakeholders shared their areas of expertise to craft a truly special blueprint that will help guide strategic and tactical decisions over the next decade that will continue to transform Grand Rapids into an even more dynamic, resilient and prosperous waterfront city.

The team worked cohesively in a very transparent manner, expressly to not duplicate efforts, but rather to brainstorm and creatively arrive at a plan that transforms the river and our community. Each agency, such as the city’s Mobility Department, which invested in GR Forward’s Mobility Study, contributed time and specialty resources in developing the comprehensive development plan.

By design, the GR Forward process focused rigorously on improving downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River corridor. GR Forward includes much more than the transformation of the downtown business district and for the first time talks about critical connections to neighborhoods, schools, entrepreneurship and jobs.

Contrary to the Journal editorial view that GR Forward is “…‘reinventing’ downtown as a residential community instead of a business district,” downtown development is not a binary, either/or proposition. The best downtowns around the world are mixed use 24/7/365 places where people want to live.

Grand Rapids is blessed with a residential resurgence in our neighborhoods, including a growing number of residents that have chosen downtown.

If adopted by the City Commission, GR Forward will enhance our business district by making it a more desirable, resilient place by continuing to extend the daily “life cycle” beyond the 8-hour day of the typical office tower.

Increasing housing opportunities downtown benefit business, office, retail and entertainment uses that remain active during evening hours. A successful downtown that is a complete community requires a variety of mixed uses — a network of destinations, pedestrian-friendly streets and open spaces, and a diversity of cultural, commercial and residential destinations.

Signs of a sustainable renaissance abound throughout the city of Grand Rapids. Our regional downtown is evolving and this plan will build upon the successes of the past to ensure that we continue to activate downtown’s great spaces and assets that have made it West Michigan’s cultural, entertainment and business hub.

This is an exciting time for Grand Rapids.

The shape of a city reflects how its people choose to live, work and play within it, ultimately enabling the city to achieve its full potential. Thousands of citizens have come together to author the GR Forward plan which aspires to build a modern way of life that unites our neighborhoods with the central business district and brings a restored river to our city and her people.

Decades of leadership, generosity and collaboration have brought downtown this far, and continued partnerships in city building must guide the next decade forward … and in GR Forward, we have the plan.

George K. Heartwell
Grand Rapids

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