GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you’re new to Grand Rapids, you may not know what downtown used to be like.
Steve Heacock, Chairman of the Arena-Convention authority and a member of Grand Action remembers the past when the areas around Ionia Avenue and Fulton Street became a ghost town after 5 p.m.
In the early 1990s, “Grand Action” was formed, a group to push large-scale projects to bring people back through private/public partnerships.
“It’s remarkable what’s happened because of the presence of this arena,” Heacock said. “They were able to bring the government along and they were able to kind of set the stage. And they dreamed big.”
Now, leaders of Grand Action now say their job is done.
An evaluation of Grand Action completed earlier this year suggests projects completed under the organization’s watch are under solid leadership by the agencies that run them and don’t need Grand Action’s oversight.
Co-Chairs David Frey, John Canepa and Dick DeVos will retire at the end of the year.
“We don’t want to hog the stage. We don’t want to keep the next generation from assuming their rightful place in the future of the city,” said Frey.
Grand Action was formed in 1992 as the successor of the Grand Vision Committee.
Grand Vision supplies the “what could be,” and the action plan.
Their first project was Van Andel Arena.
The groups launched a feasibility study, conducted private fundraising, helped, guided public funding and created the Kent County /Grand Rapids Convention Arena Authority which owns Van Andel Arena, as well as DeVos Place to run the operations and manage the county wide hotel and motel tax.
Grand Action then moved on to renovations at the Civic Theater and building the Secchia Center of the Michigan State University School of Human Medicine.
Those projects alone add up to $420 million in investments, $130 million of that from private funds donated to the cause.
“It’s a great city. It’s got tremendous momentum. Eyeballs all over the country are watching the city and we’re got a great story to tell,” Frey said.
There were projects along the way that didn’t happen.
A large, regional-scale performing arts center and a downtown amphitheater.
“We hired two very talented consultants, and deiced the time was not right. The funding mix was not available,” said Frey.
While he sees Grand Action’s mission as complete, there’s still some game changers in the works, like restoring the rapids.
But the alphabet of government agencies, from the DEQ to the EPA, and funding sources alone make it a complicated project.
It’s not the kind Grand Action focused on in the past.
“Our focus has been on large capital, core city projects that stimulate economic growth and diversity and add to the momentum of the city economically,” said Frey.
It’s a model other communities have tried to copy, but with limited success.
Frey says it comes down to culture to make it work in Grand Rapids.
“It’s the culture of collegiality. I think it’s the culture of philanthropy. I think its pride of place,” Frey said.
The organization will go into what Frey calls a dormant state by the middle of next year.
Although, in a statement released announcing the retirement, Dick DeVos suggested that dormancy may not be permanent.
“We are not shutting off the engine, but rather keeping it in idle in case the role of Grand Action played in the past is needed again in the future,” said DeVos in the statement.
Heacock, who’s also a member of Grand Action, says the biggest question in the community is if the next generation continue to push the private-public partnerships vital to large scale projects built under Grand Action’s watch.
He believes the answer is yes.
“Not only did they, Grand Action, provide buildings and incentive for people to participate downtown,” said Heacock. “I think they changed the culture.”