GVMCs Felix Has Big Picture Agenda

    GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director Jerry Felix has come up with an official to-do list, and board members of the regional planning agency recently gave his list their blessings.

    The list is actually a set of 10 self-imposed goals that Felix hopes to either attain or make a strong dent into over the next year. Board members will then evaluate his performance next year based on how he does on his list this year.

    “We’re working on some big-picture items, and this is kind of what we consider are the big-picture items,” said Felix of his list.

    “So these are sort of my initiatives, maybe more than goals. These are things that I think are priorities for Metro Council, and these are the things that I would like the board to move ahead on,” he added.

    At least half of the 10 should be of interest to the business community, as each offers support for economic growth. A few need more funding. But all, in one way or another, relate to the Metro Council’s Blueprint, its 12-year-old land-use planning document now in its second phase and known as Blueprint II.

    For instance, Felix told the Business Journal that he feels the Metro Council should play a bigger role in managing the region’s natural resources. He noted that the council has pros in transportation, land-use planning and data on board, but doesn’t have anyone on staff that specializes in water and sewer issues.

    “We’re relying on a committee of volunteers,” he said, while adding that GVMC does contract work with Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, a local civil engineering firm.

    “So I think it’s up to Metro Council to develop some expertise in the area of water, in sewer, and in stormwater,” he said, “and better coordinate the water, sewer, stormwater and other environmental issues that may come up.”

    Felix said that the council has about half the necessary funds to hire someone to direct this effort for three years and that he will be looking for the rest of the money this year.

    Getting more involved in economic development issues also is on his list, but not by duplicating efforts currently being done. Instead, Felix feels GVMC should better position itself to be able to provide more assistance to municipalities in the region, namely those that do not have development staffs like Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Wyoming and Walker do.

    “No one, generally again, has worked directly with the local governments or the cities or townships around to provide the infrastructure for the industrial parks. And we’ve seen a need because we’ve had people ask if we could help them out, and we haven’t had a lot of capacity in that — although I think we ought to,” said Felix.

    Felix will try to raise enough money from council members and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to add an economic development person to the staff. He also will try to find a source of funds that could be turned into low-cost loans to municipalities for capital improvement projects that could pave the way for private sector investment.

    “What we’re interested in, too, is economic development in the outer areas, perhaps the smaller communities, but it has to be pretty Blueprint-friendly. We are not interested in helping somebody build something that may, in a negative context, promote sprawl,” said Felix, who offered a regional employment center as a project the council could likely back.

    Expanding the council’s role in transportation also is on his list. GVMC allocates federal dollars, along with some state money, to road projects and non-motorized and streetscape improvements in its planning area. But what Felix wants the council to do is to become the region’s complete source for information on transportation and transit issues.

    “We’re looking at becoming kind of a one-stop shopping place of transportation information,” he said.

    The council recently began filling that role by publishing a weekly road construction report in a local newspaper and on its Web site at www.gvmc.org.

    Felix also feels it’s time to get REGIS, the council’s computerized data information system, marketed to public entities and private firms. He said the REGIS board is working on that now, but he wants the tempo picked up a bit. To get that done, the board still has to determine who owns some of the data as about 20 sources helped build the system.

    “If you sell the data, who gets the money?” he said.

    “But let’s deploy the Internet stuff, let’s deploy the subscription services, and let’s get this thing out to the public so it is usable,” he said. “And not only for our return on investment, but to make the information available.”

    Felix also wants the Blueprint finished. The council has received $300,000 from the state transportation department and $160,000 from the Urban Cooperation Board, money that will arrive in equal installments over the next three and four years, respectively. Felix will use the cash to hire additional staff and some additional consulting help to get the effort rolling.

    “While REGIS did a lot of utilities, a lot of parcels, nobody was really doing the current and future land-use stuff. Andy (Bowman) and Jay (Hoekstra) had to go back and add that stuff because REGIS didn’t fund for it. So we’re doing the best we can. But we think now with those funds we’ll be able to really get this thing rolling,” he said.

    A sense of urgency, however, has surfaced on getting the Blueprint done.

    “The urgency is we need to get a land-use plan done, not only for the next transportation plan that is coming up. We have to start that and complete it by the end of 2003, and that will be predicated on what the land-use is. There is no land-use plan now, but there has to be and we’re under the gun to get it done,” said Felix.

    Managing natural resources, helping with the public aspect of economic development, providing complete transportation information, turning on the business side of REGIS, and finishing the Blueprint make up half of the Felix to-do list.

    As for his priorities, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. Getting the Blueprint done is seemingly the key to getting a checkmark next to everything else on his list. Then again…

    “Absolutely. That is the overriding thing here. I would say move that up as fast as we can,” said Felix of the Blueprint. “But the others are critical to it. If we get the others, the Blueprint will move faster.”           

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