GRAND RAPIDS — There will be a 13th Annual Growing Communities Conference after all, but it will be a scaled-down version from the previous few.
The Grand Valley Metro Council, which has held the day-long event for developers, land-use planners, engineers and public officials since 1993, initially cancelled the conference last summer due to budget constraints. But members of the regional planning agency’s Public Information and Education Committee suggested a less expensive event be held, and they secured meeting space in the GVSU Eberhard Center at a dramatically reduced cost.
The past few years the council’s signature event has been held at Frederik Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park, after getting its start in an area high school.
GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said this year’s conference would cost about $18,000 to hold — about $9,000 less than last year’s. He said the agency has $4,000 in state transportation funds it can use for the event and a $3,000 grant that came from the Urban Cooperation Board.
Stypula said he was also seeking a grant from Michigan State University to help fund the conference and was looking for other sponsors. Stypula said he expects between 250 and 300 people will attend the event, which is slated for June 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Possible featured speakers for the event include Phil Power of metro Detroit and one of the four deputy mayors of Louisville, Ky.
Power owned a chain of suburban Detroit newspapers that he recently sold to Gannett Inc. and has used some of that money to form a new public policy research initiative called Center for Michigan. GVSU President Mark Murray, soon to take over the reins of Meijer Inc., is a board member of Power’s Ann Arbor-based think tank.
A Louisville deputy mayor is being considered because the city recently merged with the county to form the nation’s most recent unified government. Louisville voters approved the merger in 2000 and two years later the city merged with Jefferson County, the largest public merger of its kind in 40 years.
Grand Rapids City Manager Kurt Kimball was part of a local contingent that attended a conference last November featuring the Louisville story. Kent County Assistant Administrator Mary Swanson also attended.
“There were a lot of interesting things about that model,” said Kimball.
Kimball told Metro Council members that the city didn’t go through with the merger to cut expenses and save revenue. He said Louisville went ahead with the unification process to become a bigger national player with hopes of drawing more economic development interest to the city. Louisville was the nation’s 64th largest city before the merger and became the 16th largest after.
“It put them in the category that if a company was looking to do something in a Top 20 market, they would qualify,” said Kimball.
Stypula said that other speakers would also be invited to the event. Tickets are expected to be $75 for those who pre-register and $85 at the door.