On Friday, GRPS Assistant Superintendent Larry Johnson, spoke to 24 Hour News 8 about his memories of the street during that time. Back then, he was an undercover GRPD narcotics officer.
“25 years ago this was a pretty busy area,” said Johnson as he showed 24 Hour News 8 around. “It was a difficult area. Lot of blight. Lot of abandoned vehicles. I think many had given up on Wealthy Street, but the city never gave up; we wanted to change the world. We wanted to change our neighborhood and we thought we could make the difference and I think in the end we did.”
Johnson said that when he was out on the street, he would arrest someone for drugs, and see more deal happening at the same time.
“You could be enforcing on one end of the block and look up the street at the other end of the block and see deals being done out of cars,” said Johnson.
Despite that, when asked if he ever though Wealthy would look like he does now, Johnson said he always thought that it would.
“You know, that’s what my whole career has been about, it’s been about revitalization. It’s about bringing life, it’s about being positive it’s about bringing hopefulness (sic) back to the people.”
He pointed out things that had been particular problems back in the day, saying abandoned cars and buildings and glass in the streets were good examples. “There was a McDonald’s up the street that closed. It was the first time in my life that I had seen a McDonald’s close down,” said Johnson.
But those weren’t the only problems.
“Family Dollar wasn’t here, it was an establishment a bar called ‘The White Rabbit Bar’, and it was the source of the problems it was probably the heart beat of the problems here,” said Johnson.
He went on to say shutting down that bar went a long way in turning the neighborhood around.
He also credited GRPD, neighbors in the community, the city of Grand Rapids and the businesses who stuck it out through the worst times as big reasons why Wealthy St is what it is now. He described it as a blueprint that the city can use in years to come.
“This is a test case for what can happen when the public and private work together,” said Johnson. “It’s a test case for when the public loves their city and don’t want to give up on it.”