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City Commission to vote on GR Forward plan

GR Forward will head to a final vote at the City Commission on Dec. 15, following months of public forums and approval from the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Grand Rapids Planning Commission.
Kris Larson

Kris Larson

Underwriting support from:

Attending City Commission meetings

  • City Commission meetings are open to the public
  • The vote on GR Forward will be on Dec. 15, 2015 at 7 p.m.
  • Located at Grand Rapids City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave NW 
  • City Commission chambers are on the 9th floor 
Downtown Development Authority meeting to approve GR Forward

Downtown Development Authority meeting to approve GR Forward

GR Forward, a plan to revitalize downtown Grand Rapids, was unanimously approved by the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Nov. 12, and now heads to the City Commission looking for final approval on Dec. 15.

GR Forward is a planning process that features six goals to make the downtown Grand Rapids community more inclusive, diverse, accessible and eco-friendly.

The first goal of the plan is to restore the Grand River as a major draw of the city, which involves a plethora of infrastructure projects to improve access to the river for businesses and local neighborhoods. This includes creating new trail systems and green spaces, and collaboration with the Grand Rapids Whitewater Project.

The second goal is to build a more diverse downtown neighborhood, which Planning Manager for Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. Tim Kelly says is about reaching a critical mass, or a full downtown population, by drawing more residents to the area.

Currently, the downtown area has around 5,000 residents. Kelly says he hopes that through changes to existing zones, along with bonuses and incentives, GR Forward will pull an additional six or seven thousand people to live in the area.

“That’s where we’ll start to see more investment, where we’ll start to see the emergence of true neighborhoods,” Kelly says.

The third goal is to enhance and modernize transportation, with an emphasis on the pedestrian experience. This involves redesigning streets to improve pedestrian safety, adding new parking options, creating new networks in and out of downtown and using technology to make pedestrian mobility easier.

“We talk a lot about providing freedom of choice for people in downtown,” Kelly says. “All modes of transportation can exist harmoniously, but within that system, within that hierarchy, we want to prioritize pedestrians.”

The fourth and fifth aspects of GR Forward are to expand job opportunities downtown and use public spaces for cultural events. These goals involve supporting more diverse residents, business owners and city leaders, says President and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. Kris Larson.

“There is a huge disparity between who calls downtown home and who calls downtown the home of their business,” Larson says.

Public comment during the refining of the GR Forward plan has raised concerns about inclusion and equity, Larson says. He says there should be an effort to ensure businesses and city leadership reflect the communities to which they belong.

“We want to be much more intentional about striving to achieve some level of resemblance between those that populate boards and commissions and those that actually call Grand Rapids and Kent County home,” Larson says.

He says this also applies to businesses ownership and employment, specifically on the street level, where 6.5 percent of businesses are owned by minorities and about 90 percent of the workforce is white.

“We need to make sure that we’re addressing that visible evidence of economic prosperity and inclusion within our downtown,” Larson says.

The goals of improving equity and diversity of downtown residents should be focused on increasing affordable housing, he says.

“The community’s No. 1 goal of building a better, more sustainable retail base would be impossible if we don’t diversify the demand for downtown housing, which means getting into a more segmented audience to create more opportunities for people to call downtown home,” Larson says.

GR Forward also features a partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) at its two downtown locations, Innovation Central High and the new Public Museum School.

Tim Kelly says these locations provide new generations of talent, and working with GRPS will help students and the city.

“We all recognize the importance of public education for our city and our health and future,” he says.

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