Business Groups Flex Some Muscle

    GRAND RAPIDS — Representatives from each of the core city’s 20 neighborhood business associations outlined for city commissioners Wednesday the efforts they’ve undertaken this past year to enhance the business climate and overall image of their respective districts.

    From marketing and beautification initiatives, to pedestrian safety improvements, to new business recruitment, to district-wide cleanup efforts and collaborations with neighborhood groups and schools, each association had a success story to tell.

    Their accomplishments were noted all around at the annual meeting of the Neighborhood Business Alliance governing board last week at Western Michigan University’s satellite campus downtown.

    Eastown Business Association, for example, has developed a new mission statement, created a new logo, launched a Web site, cross promoted Eastown businesses, and added emphasis to its unique identity: “Eastown! Like No Other Part of Town.”

    Some 70 percent of Eastown businesses belong to the association.

    The Heartside Business Association welcomed a new furniture store, EQ3, saw the start of construction on Cooley Law School and is looking ahead to construction of the second phase of the Cherry Street Landing project, as well as The Rapid bus system’s new surface transportation center.

    The Stockbridge Business Association created a new logo, donated funds to Sibley School, joined forces with the West Leonard and West Fulton business associations and lowered its vacancy rate to three storefronts out of 120 storefronts in the district.

    Seymour Square Business Association has seen the addition of several new restaurants this past year and now boasts 100 percent storefront occupancy.

    And the Madison Square Business Association reported that Madison Square Plaza has achieved 100 percent occupancy, too.

    Mayor John Logie credited the staff of the Neighborhood Business Specialists Program for providing the associations with “the muscle and the inspiration” to grow and for showing them the benefits of working together.

    The NBSP is a partnership between the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the city and the Neighborhood Business Alliance (NBA).

    The “cluster identity” the associations have created for their individual districts is a very positive force, Logie said.

    He encouraged the business associations to “reach out and embrace” the neighborhood associations in their districts.

    “I think by working together you can strengthen each other, certainly where you have plans or ideas for expansion of your business,” he said, adding that there are some tools in the new master plan that support residential and commercial interaction.

    One of the master plan objectives for strengthening business and the economy is the creation of compact, mixed-use retail centers linked by residential mixed-use development.

    “Many of you are in mixed-use neighborhoods that can be strengthened if you take advantage of some of the initiatives that we put in this plan,” Logie said.

    He also encouraged the business associations to tap city parking department resources for help in identifying, designing and creating better parking for their customers.

    Commissioner Lynn Rabaut of the second ward said she was amazed at the growth of the business associations over the last few years. She described the growth on Michigan Street as “unbelievable” and said it couldn’t have happened without a public-private sector cooperation.

    ‘I want to impress upon you the importance to us as political figures the cooperation we’ve had from the neighborhood business associations,” she said. “It makes our jobs a heck of a lot easier if we can come in hand and hand on projects.”

    First Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak said it’s a pleasure to see the city’s growth really starting to take shape not just downtown but in the neighborhood business districts.

    “When I first ran for commissioner six years ago, a lot of the talk in the neighborhoods was just ‘downtown, downtown, downtown,’” he recalled.

    “But now we’re really seeing some beautification projects, new businesses and street improvements in areas that were far too long being neglected.”

    Redevelopment projects like those on South Division, Grandville and Monroe avenues are transforming the main arteries leading into the city, he said.   

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