In Booming Grand Rapids, Looking at Equitable Ways to Develop City-Owned Land

The Heartside District in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has seen major investment and revitalization in recent years.

The Heartside District in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has seen major investment and revitalization in recent years. Michael Grass / Route Fifty

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

As a revitalization success story continues to be written, local leaders want to take a more inclusive approach to new development.

This is third in a series of stories looking at this year’s Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership 2017 Fellowship cities Anchorage , Grand Rapids , San José and Washington, D.C. On May 2, Route Fifty , as part of a five-city Roadshow series of events , will be hosting a special Rose Center Mayors’ Forum from the Urban Land Institute ’s Spring Meeting in Seattle. | REGISTER

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Municipal leaders in Michigan’s second largest city are in many ways, just trying to play catch up.

Coming out of the Great Recession, Grand Rapids found itself to be one of the hottest markets in the nation, with new jobs in the health care and technology sectors and a ton of new construction, both in the core downtown as well as in surrounding neighborhoods.

While philanthropic investment in civic institutions continues to be a major force in making Grand Rapids a revitalization success story over the past 25 years, much of the recent development has been financed, at least in part, with economic development incentives such as tax incremental financing and Brownfield redevelopment funds.

Van Andel Arena, at left, has helped revitalize the adjacent Heartside District, which stands east of the U.S. 131 S-Curve. (Photo by Michael Grass / Route Fifty)

Formerly vacant and underutilized commercial and industrial buildings in the historic Heartside District and elsewhere have been converted into condos and apartments. Restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and specialty retail now flourish in a city where businesses once struggled to keep their doors open downtown as the suburbs flourished.

City leaders are quick to applaud the investment from real estate developers, but they also note that amid rising housing costs and a shortage of supply, it’s time to take a more inclusive approach to new development.

That became especially true after listening to the recommendations of the visiting fellows from the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership as they discussed the redevelopment opportunities at the 15-acre city-owned riverfront site at 201 Market Ave. SW.

That site is located just south of the U.S. 131 “S Curve,” an elevated expressway separating a revitalized neighborhood anchored by the multi-purpose Van Andel Arena on one side and an area once dominated by light industrial facilities and warehouses.

This part of the city has changed a lot in the past 20 years.

Looking north toward downtown Grand Rapids from the 201 Market Ave. SW site. Here, the U.S. 131 S-Curve crosses Market Avenue. (Photo by Michael Grass / Route Fifty)

The arena opened in 1996 and in many ways was a catalyst to draw bars, restaurants and clubs to the surrounding blocks, especially Ionia Avenue, which runs south out of downtown on the east side of the expressway.

The S-Curve was rebuilt in the early 2000s and brought street and sidewalk improvements that made surface connections passing under the expressway more inviting. That ultimately helped lay the foundation for the additional revitalization and investments on the south side of the expressway. That included constructing the city’s Central Station transit hub, a new facility for the Grand Rapids Ballet and an expanded home for Founders Brewing Company , one of the nation’s largest craft brewers, which is just a short walk from the 201 Market site.

Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Michael Grass / Route Fifty)

During the same time period, neighborhoods north of the Interstate 196 expressway and west of the Grand River and U.S. 131 began seeing more investment. That included the gradual expansion of the Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University, a major activity center on the west side of the river that’s a relatively quick walk from the 201 Market site.

“Going into looking at the redevelopment of 201 Market, we were already pretty clear that the redevelopment needs to be aligned with our overarching goals as a city, and equity is one of those goals,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss told this reporter in an April interview with West Michigan regional business publication MiBiz . “It was part of the discussion even before we put out the RFQ.”

Bliss notes that the city’s site, which has been home to a variety of public works operations and storage, stands as one of a handful of riverfront, publicly-owned properties that the city sees as not living up their highest and best use, adding that Grand Rapids will engage in further discussions with other surrounding municipal bodies about how to best share space and services.

All told, Bliss said that her initial request seeking guidance from the Rose Center was related to how the city could best engage in discussions related to disposing of underutilized municipal properties.

A rendering of a mixed-use project opposite 201 Market St. NW site in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Courtesy rendering)

Just across the street from the 201 Market site, developers are in the process of building a $56.5 million mixed-use project that will include more than 230 market-rate apartments along with retail and office space.

There’s a fair bit of reason that city leaders like Bliss and others have begun expressing the need for “equitable” development: Grand Rapids and its housing market has turned into a hotbed for investors, many from out-of-state, and that’s at least in part led to rising housing costs.

Michigan Radio , an NPR affiliate, recently reported that out of the nearly 7,000 single-family homes that went through some sort of foreclosure between 2008 and 2016 in Grand Rapids, 45 percent are now owned by investors.

To be sure—at least in the minds of the city’s leadership—equity means more than just building more affordable housing. And that’s particularly true in the case of the 201 Market site, which is less than a 10-minute walk from the heart of downtown and the Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University on the other side of the Grand River.

The Grand River flows through downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan (Shutterstock)

While it’s not clear what yet will get built on the site, municipal leaders believe that the land will also need to offer better connections to public transit as well as access to the Grand River where there’s currently plans underway to restore the historic, eponymous rapids.

“I do think the team from the Rose Center affirmed that when you're redeveloping public property there's an opportunity to be very intentional with how that project is redeveloped,” Bliss said in the MiBiz interview. “And equity needs to be a part of that.”

All told, only one responder out of five to the city’s request for qualifications for 201 Market came from a local developer. City staff say they’ll be evaluating the RFQ responders and likely put out an RFP to qualified developers later this spring or summer.

But while Bliss and other civic boosters know they want to build in greater community equity to whatever deal they carve out for the 201 Market site, it’s also clear there’s not yet a comprehensive definition of just what that means.

“Equity has not been clearly defined if everyone is talking about it,” said Antonio Fiol-Silvia, a Philadelphia architect and one of the visiting Rose Centers fellows, adding that he thinks the city needs to be more effective when it comes to aligning development incentives with equitable land use policies. “There’s limited alignment between city policies, practices and incentives implementation.”

Nick Manes is a journalist based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a regular Route Fifty contributor. Follow him on Twitter @nickrmanes

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Expanding broadband access with small cell deployment in City of Ontario
Ontario, CA, USA
Erie County, PA offers all local restaurants free digital tools to plan for safe COVID reopening
Erie County, PA, USA
Online permitting and approval process during COVID-19 exceeds in-person performance numbers
Markham, ON, Canada

NEXT STORY: How Cross-Sector Partnerships Are Fueling Innovation in Tampa

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.