Downtown GR sees steady progress with new long-term plan

(File photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids is nearing the first year of the city’s long-term master plan for the downtown area.

The GR Forward initiative includes a checklist of 18 action items that officials at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and other local community partners began focusing on at the start of 2016.

With just over a month left to go, seven goals have been checked off.

“I don’t know that it’s a report card,” explained DGRI President and CEO Kristopher Larson.

He said the team who came up with the checklist knew some of the items may take longer than the first year due to a number of reasons, including the time it takes to make policy changes.

“Realistically, we wanted to be aggressive with this,” Larson said.

DGRI officials said they have a plan to complete more before the end of the year.

City commissioners approved the new 10-year master plan 11 months ago.

DGRI spearheads the initiative. Larson said that community partners like Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Whitewater play a big role.

Starting up a downtown resident network and adding more minority and women-owned businesses are two action items on the 2016 list.

Larson said that though most of the boxes aren’t checked off, none of the projects are untouched.

“We can actually vocalize a level of confidence that we are working on every one of these areas.”

DGRI officials said that the list is not the only way they’re measuring progress.

Some things aren’t on that list such as adding diversity at Movies in the Park and rebuilding the gateway entrance downtown at Pearl Street. Both of those are accomplishments Larson highlighted from the past year.

Community investment in the GR Forward mission will be key to keeping it moving.

“We know the destination that we want to get to, but it means that there’s going to be some evolution, there’s going to be some changes in the landscape,” Larson said. “It means that in some cases there’s going to be a little bit of discomfort associated with change and investment, and that’s just going to sort of become a new normal.”

As the beginning of 2017 draws closer, DGRI plans to focus on adding more affordable housing downtown to better diversify the residents that live there.

Larson said that over the next few months DGRI will also put a large effort on breaking ground on the Lyon Square transformation in an effort to make Grand Rapids more of a waterfront city.