What Will Define our Regional Success?

Life and the nature of work has changed post-pandemic and metro areas across the country and Midwest are struggling, particularly in urban downtowns.

What about Grand Rapids? The metro area has bucked worrisome trends and is the one area of Michigan that is actually growing. The central business district is the regional hub of economic growth, jobs, tourism and recreation. Plus, it works in concert with the other high-quality amenities such as the lakeshore and other neighborhood business districts to support a vibrant region.

Will we continue this way in the future? It’s complicated. There is never a single solution to major disruption and complex issues, but we can learn from other cities have done – or not done. And it will take the business community leading the effort to promote a vibrant and prosperous region in the coming decades.

Cities that are succeeding are focused on:

  • Investing in amenities that improve quality of life – from signature assets to enhancing greenspace.
  • Increasing the availability and attainability of housing for all
  • Increasing community safety

The good news is that our region is already engaging in public-private partnerships on all these fronts. Here’s how greater Grand Rapids is breaking the mold.

1. Creating and Enhancing Regional Assets

The major projects being prioritized are world class and will create iconic experiences for residents, attract new visitors all while driving increased quality of life and economic growth.

Pulling off the big catalytic projects is like climbing a mountain – fortunately we have the model, leadership from Grand Action 2.0 , and support from economic development and local government partners.

It’s time for our region to put our stake in the ground for what’s next:

  • The BIG ones: The Amphitheater , soccer stadium and Factory Yards are the entertainment projects closest to getting underway. The economic impact of these projects over the coming decades is in the hundreds of millions and they have the potential to spark 1000+ new housing units in adjacent development with other amenities.
  • River Development: The rejection of the ‘whitewater’ permit doesn’t mean that this project doesn’t still have life – it may just look different. Significant other opportunities will also move forward such as private development along the river and more public greenspace meaning more access for everyone. And don’t forget the connections from Holland to Lowell thanks to the Grand River Greenway projects!
  • Aquarium: John Ball Zoo’s already a high-performing asset for the region, but in addition to other upcoming improvements a potential aquarium could be a game changer.
  • Everything Else: It is the sum of all the parts that make a great community, creating amenity-rich neighborhoods and corridors will drive a better future. GR’s investment in parks city-wide and other small but significant things add up. Plus, Wyoming , Walker , Kentwood , Plainfield , Ada and many other communities are hard at work as well.

Take an inside look at the catalytic projects here.

2. Increasing Housing at all Price Points

According to our partners at Housing Next , Kent and Ottawa Counties need to create nearly 50,000 new housing units at all price points to meet growth demands. The further we underproduce housing supply the greater the pressure on for-sale and rental housing disproportionately impacting households with the least resources. Success will create more desirable places to live, and failure will further exacerbate the talent shortage in our region while adding to cost burdens.

Thankfully, we have made significant progress to rise to this challenge, but we still need to accelerate our efforts to create desirable, walkable and amenity-rich housing opportunities:

  • Workforce Housing Tools: The Chamber and our colleagues at Housing Michigan led the creation of new workforce housing tools through bipartisan legislation this includes Housing TIF, PILOTs for workforce housing and more.
  • Zoning Grants: We successfully received $5M in the latest Michigan budget for zoning grants through the MEDC and Housing Next has partnered with Kent County to administer almost $400,000 in zoning grants to help cover the costs to address regulatory obstacles to housing development.
  • Revolving Loan Funds: Housing Next supported Ottawa County’s creation of a revolving loan fund to offer capital to support housing projects and we advocated for Kent County to adopt a similar fund that will launch soon.
  • Regional Housing Hub: Housing Next with the support of The Right Place and West Michigan Urban League is leading the effort to prioritize how MSHDA invests in the 13-county region under their new Statewide Housing Plan. Josh Lunger, VP of Government Affairs, was also appointed by the Governor to the Statewide Housing Partnership.
  • Data, Technical Assistance and Direct Support: Housing Next has presented to dozens of local governments about the most recent data on housing needs and is providing direct support to municipalities and builders to advance projects and remove regulatory barriers.
  • Zoning Atlas: We have partnered with the University of Michigan, Michigan Association of Planning and MSHDA to develop a zoning atlas for Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon Counties to help drive prioritization of efforts to upzone for housing development and more.

3. Enhancing Community Safety

Grand Rapids participates in the statistically-valid National Community Survey and in 2022 safety was rated as the most essential priority by residents. Another issue challenging cities nationwide during the pandemic was an increase of crime and important discussions on law enforcement accountability and transparency. A vibrant, active community is a safe community – the above priorities will also support better results here.

Other efforts: Safety is a highly politicized issue, and even the use of drones for critical incidents has become controversial. But the City has continued to find ways to engage community through DICE or initiatives such as CURE Violence.

Learn about these initiatives and more at our Grand Rapids Policy Conference on Wednesday, August 9.


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