GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It doesn’t take an expert to look around and see the cranes dotting the Grand Rapids skyline and realize we are a growing city.
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) recently completed a report to get a better idea on who is living and working downtown, as well as how the land in downtown is being used.
“We have a chance in a city like Grand Rapids to build the city that we want. So we’re not fighting against 50 years or 100 years of preexisting building stock. We still have the opportunity to develop those buildings that we want to see in our community, so we can set those targets and make sure we are building a downtown that can truly be home to everyone,” said Kris Larson, the president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
Often it’s thought the only new people coming into downtown are those moving into the new apartment buildings, but a lot of formerly empty office buildings are filling up once again.
More than 45,000 people work in downtown every day, a number that has grown by 10,000 since 2012.
“We’re in the middle of really a gangbuster economic moment for our downtown. Can this level of velocity continue to maintain? I think we’ll see that,” Larson said.
Currently there are 3,362 housing units in downtown with another 1,300 units currently planned or under construction. The goal is to get that number up to 10,000 to attract national retailers so many people want to see in downtown. DGRI has a goal of reaching that number by 2025.
“Through GR Forward we heard time and time from people that they wanted to see an improved retail amenity in downtown. So more opportunity for shopping everything from everyday goods like grocery to comparison goods like clothes,” said Larson.
There are some areas of downtown that DGRI sees the opportunity for improvement on — like the makeup of who is working downtown. Of the more than 45,000 downtown workers, 90 percent of them are white compared with seven percent black and two percent Asian.
“It means we have a lot of work to do with our employers to help our employers adopt equality-driven hiring plans. Recognizing that the composition of our city is going to continue to change,” Larson said.
Another area DGRI sees room for improvement on is land use. The commercial buildings downtown workers work in take up about 17 percent of the land downtown, while the lots they park their cars in take up 26 percent of land.
Also a lot of the land use downtown isn’t generating money.
“We’ve got a high percentage of our land use that is no tax producing as it relates to property tax. So that is a challenge for us,” said Larson.
Part of the study DGRI released looked at how much of the housing downtown is considered affordable for lower income individuals.
DGRI has set a goal of maintaining at least 30 percent of the housing stock in the affordable housing or income restricted category. Currently 35 percent of the housing downtown is in that category — that does not include the current projects underway.
While DGRI found that who works downtown doesn’t reflect the ethnicity makeup of Grand Rapids, who is living downtown does. Sixty-eight percent of people living downtown are white, 19 percent are black and seven percent are Hispanic or Latino — which better reflects the makeup of the entire city.