The Rapidian

Mayor Heartwell's 10th State of City Address focuses on youth and sustainability

Mayor epitomizes Grand Rapids motto, Strength through Activity, and encourages "the fierce energy of now" as hundreds pledge their allegiance to the City of Grand Rapids
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/courtesy of GRTV

Mayor George Heartwell's 10th State of the City address outlined past successes, current activities and future plans for the second largest city in Michigan. Over 400 people joined the mayor and other dignitaries for breakfast at DeVos Place on Saturday, January 26, 2013. 

The mayor’s speech was a call to action for the people of Grand Rapids to support the work of city leaders in the areas of education, job creation, energy use, fiscal transformation, land use and the Grand River.

Heartwell spoke of the momentum of programs focusing on the city’s youth. He praised the community for actively nurturing and valuing our students, acknowledging GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal and the Board of Education, as well as Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College, as partners in planning for the future. George Grant, dean of the school of social work at Grand Valley State University gave a summary of the Community Conversations About the Children of Grand Rapids. 

Several Grand Rapids-based businesses were paid tribute for their involvement in internship and training programs offered through the Mayor’s 50; local businesses which have “stepped up to the plate to provide employment and training opportunities for youth.” Mercantile Bank President Mike Price announced a gift of $100,000 to the city’s Upward Bound program, which supports college and career readiness.

The Mayor praised the city’s diversity, mentioning several pillars of the community. He welcomed two new Champions of Diversity, 3rd Ward City Commissioners James White and Elias Lumpkins. Heartwell also announced that Grand Rapids will soon be the first city in the state to offer Spanish translation of all City Commission meetings starting in June, 2013.

The Mayor outlined his vision of Grand Rapids as a forward looking city and introduced a plan that will prepare the city for the effects of global warming on our infrastructure. He spoke about the Grand River and the proposed Grand Rapids River Restoration Project that will “set the stage for visionary thinking about our river resources.”

“The project will redefine Grand Rapids and serve as a source of civic pride and recreation for the region for years to come,” he said. Heartwell praised the hundreds of volunteers that annually clean up 25 miles of the Grand River and its tributaries and said “water quality in the Grand River hasn’t been better in 100 years.” This last fact is directly attributable to the 99.8% reduction in combined sewer overflow brought about by the sewer separation project, slated to finish by 2016.

The State of the City Address wouldn’t have been complete without some cold hard facts about taxes and revenues.

“We are about half-way to our financial goals and beginning to see the return on our investments” from the temporary tax increase that has been in effect for two and a half years, says Heartwell. When that five-year tax increase expires, Heartwell says we’ll have a city government that balances revenue and expenses. Mayor Heartwell also pointed out that in two out of the past three years, the city has lowered the water and sewage rates, and lowered refuse tonnage by 13%. 

Also included was a recap of the land use planning process focused on Michigan Street, also known as “Medical Mile.” Heartwell touted tens of thousands of jobs that have been created in the city because of the city’s structured planning.   

Mayor Heartwell happily shared a litany of lists that have featured Grand Rapids as a great place to live and work, including the best place to live, to raise a family, to retire in or to relocate to, and also as one of the happiest places to work. Beer-lover that he is, Mayor Heartwell also noted that Grand Rapids is now known as “Beer City, USA” and that Newsweek obviously got it very wrong, says Heartwell, when they listed Grand Rapids as a dying city.

“Do you even remember Newsweek?” he asked. 

Finally, and with much enthusiasm, Mayor Heartwell led the audience in a rousing “pledge” to Grand Rapids, and rallied them with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about “the fierce urgency of NOW.”

See Mayor Heartwell’s Open Letter to Newsweek here, where he replies to their decision to list Grand Rapids as a dying city.

Full transcript of State of the City address available here.


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