City Committee A Huge Disappointment


    “The Grand Rapids area is the fastest growing region in Michigan and the second fastest growing region in the upper Midwest.” So reads the City of Grand Rapids Request for Letters of Interest (and we stress the city’s use of the word “letters” of interest). Perhaps the city also should have issued a “Letter of Warning” fully informing developers from across the country that this is a community full of naysayers, irrevocably given to the belief that every glass is half empty, even after it overflows.

    Grand Rapids Business Journal does not suggest that eternal optimists are at all preferred, but there are still some in this community who don’t believe what they see, and continue to perpetuate perceptions that are untrue, and it’s not just the nationally owned media businesses (some still say they don’t see the economic domino of the Van Andel Arena). The recovery arrived in the metro area, cranes are evident in the skyline on every side of the city, productivity is “guesstimated” to be at an all-time high, the metro area continues to land on respected “top 10” lists, at least one new, significant industry has been added to the diversity of the regional economy (that would be health care and life sciences), and this community is building one of the only new art museums in the country (and all the funding is in place).

    That said, one could expect the uninvited, unwarranted and subjective opinions of a committee selected to review those Letters of Interest. The charge given the group was singular: are any — or all — of the Letters of Interest submitted for city-owned riverfront property development viable? Period.

    Adding insult to the insults of second-guessing developers who may or may not still be interested in investing their money in the city: Only half the committee showed up for the most anticipated meeting of the year. That’s a problem.

    This is the year 2006, in a new Millennium. Not 1980. The city is blessedly seeing interest from other corners of the country, interest that is diverse. It is significant at this juncture to leave the door wide open to innovation and progressive creativity as any of the proposals move forward.

    Offhand and unmindful comments like, “We don’t need any more hotels,” does not speak to the future of a growing and changing city. Building an arts center in the middle of the Arizona desert doesn’t seem “necessary” either, but it became an economic engine in Mesa

    Current use of the city property is blatantly misuse, and the city is thankfully finally reconsidering its “public works island” on the banks of the Grand River which offers no tax revenue to depleted city coffers. Riverfront property is possibly the most valuable property in the downtown, and development to date has ignored that fact. It is currently a brownfield, a far more expensive proposition for development.

    Further, the information provided does clearly indicate funding sources, and whether each is viable. The developers are investing their own funds, and those putting their own money on the line have likely done 10 times the research of any committee member.

    City Economic Development Director Susan Shannon was correct to repeatedly direct committee members to the singular mission, at one point flat out telling them: “We’re not looking at what is proposed, but if the developer can follow through on the project.”

    She should now thank them for their time and send them away.    

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