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A motion was unanimously passed Nov 4th that will allow the wall and mural at 217 South Division to remain in place temporarily. Although the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Committee was clear that the boarding up of a historical building was not something they would ordinarily consider allowing, there were many mitigating circumstances that prompted the exception.
One of the circumstances that swayed the committee was the strong show of support for both the mural and the wall. The medium sized room on the second floor of the City Planning Department had more occupied seats than is typical for a Preservation Commission meeting, commented Barry VanDyke, a committee member. Eight people spoke in favor of the wall/mural, including Annamarie Bueller, arts advocate and long-time Heartside resident, who read a letter written by her mother who is a frequent visitor to Division Street. More than sixteen supportive letters, written by police representatives, Heartside residents, businesses, and visitors to the area, were also handed to the deciding Commission members.
Kevin Haviland, the property owner, was the first to speak on behalf of the mural/wall. Haviland stated briefly that the police had asked him to erect a wall to block the alcove at 217 South Division and he did so. Shortly after, Erwin Erkfitz, an artist and resident of the Heartside neighborhood, requested permission to paint a mural on the temporary blockade for his ArtPrize entry. Haviland allowed him to do so.
Erkfitz was next in front of the committee. He and those who followed him spoke about their personal experience living in the Heartside neighborhood and the struggle to change the public's perception of South Division. The alcove in front of the building had attracted loiterers and frequent illegal activity. Especially visible during big Heartside events such as the Avenue for the Arts, these activities detracted many visitors to the area and divided the north and south sections of the street. The wall and mural not only eliminated the loitering and illegal activity in front of 217 S. Division, but it also added something cheerful and bright to the area. One supporter noted that a safe building is more likely to attract investors, and allowing the painting to temporarily remain in place fits with the long term goals of the commission, even though it goes against the technical rules and guidelines of the committee.
The seven members of the Commission questioned Haviland and Erkfitz to clarify that the temporary wall was not damaging the building in any way and they wanted to ensure that the mural would not become a "graffiti magnet". In discussing the motion the members stressed that the wall and mural, although apparently working as a deterrent to crime and a beautifying contribution to the area, should not be seen as a long term solution. The hope and goal of the Commission is to have the original facade repaired or replaced and the building filled with tenants interested in contributing to the vibrancy of the neighborhood.
Now that the Historic Preservation Commission has given its temporary permission, the issue must go before two other interested parties. Approval for the wall and mural must be given by the Arts Advisory Council as well as the city's engineering department; the wall is apparently built on the city's right-of-way and is therefore subject to encroachment laws. Contingent on these approvals, the colorful mural will remain in full view and the wall will continue to force it's previous visitors to other sheltered spaces until 217 Division is purchased and repaired or 12 months have passed, which ever occurs first.