The Rapidian Home

Mayor Bliss reflects on two decades of service, sets priorities in her final State of the City address

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, after nearly 20 years of service in Grand Rapids, gave her final State of the City address, reflecting on her tenure, community growth and outlining her priorities for her remaining months in office.
Mayor Rosalynn Bliss delivers her final State of the City address at the Fulton Street Market

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss delivers her final State of the City address at the Fulton Street Market /Allison Donahue

After nearly 20 years of public service in the City of Grand Rapids, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said farewell Thursday evening during her last State of the City address — but not before laying out her priorities for the last seven months of her term. 

Under the vendor shed at the Fulton Street Market, Bliss addressed a crowd, including many local elected officials and community leaders, to reflect on her tenure, the city’s growth and her aspirations for the future of Grand Rapids. A common thread throughout her address was the importance of grassroots action in the city’s continued growth. 

“Passionate individuals and small groups of enthusiastic people who genuinely love our community see a common problem or a significant opportunity. They plant the seed of an idea to do something about it. They work hard to organize support and nurture a supportive environment where the idea can bloom into reality,” Bliss said. “And who do they do it for? Their community. Our community.”

Bliss’ career serving the City began in 2006 as a Second Ward city commissioner, which she did for a decade, before taking office as Grand Rapids’ first female mayor in 2016. She was then re-elected for a second term in November 2019.  

With less than a year left in office, Bliss outlined a few priorities she would like to see through before “stepping away as Mayor,” namely passing the hotel tax increase that will go in front of voters in August, addressing chronic homelessness and her longtime commitment to planting trees in the city. 

The “visitor-funded” Lodging Tax, which will be on the Aug. 6 ballot, would increase the county’s hotel tax from 5% to 8%. Bliss said the income from the tax could help to cover the costs of the proposed Acrisure Amphitheater on the south side of Downtown and the soccer stadium planned to be built on the west side. 

“Increasing the visitor tax is critical to building these projects and unlocking the benefits they will most certainly deliver,” Bliss said. “Tourism helps pay for Grand Rapids and Kent County. Our guests come and go, but their money stays here, providing significant benefits to Grand Rapids’ residents and helps to support our community’s high quality of life.”

Visitor spending brings in more than $82 million a year and over 9 million people visit and stay overnight – 90% of which are coming from out of Kent County — each year, Bliss said. 

The outgoing mayor also stated that addressing homelessness remains a priority of her’s before her term ends, setting a goal to house 100 people who have been chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for a year or more, before 2025.

“Homelessness is a problem I am convinced we can solve, and doing just that is key to make us the community we aspire to be,” Bliss said. 

She highlighted several organizations and recent projects dedicated to addressing homelessness in Grand Rapids, including Community Rebuilders, Degage Ministries, and the Kent County and Trinity Health partnership to open the Behavioral Health Crisis Center. But Bliss said more needs to be done, noting the need for alignment among service providers, stronger wraparound services and a Homelessness Impact Dashboard that “drives more transparency and accountability into our efforts.”

“We can make significant strides toward a future where homelessness in our city is not just managed but substantially reduced,” Bliss said. “And we can get to a point where homelessness is truly rare, brief and non-reoccurring. I believe we can do it because we remain a place where dedicated people get involved and aspire to make a really big difference. That is a special strength of our community – it always has been.”

The last priority Bliss touched on during her last State of the City address is planting and caring for trees – sharing that 13,000 trees were planted in the city during her time as mayor. 

“They produce oxygen, filter out air pollution, absorb noise, help calm traffic and manage stormwater, improve property values and reduce people’s stress levels. … I also believe trees are something of a metaphor for personal and community growth,” Bliss said. “Everything begins, just like a tree, with a seed, whether it’s an idea, a dream, a city. The seeds start small and grow over time. It’s patient work, and sometimes difficult to see progress, as the seed grows slowly and quietly. This is especially true at the very beginning when we’re most eager to see visible progress.”

In 2009, the City established the goal of achieving 40% tree canopy, which is the proportion of land area covered by trees as viewed with satellite imagery, citywide. 

During her address, Bliss nodded to several urban tree advocates who worked to put that goal in place — Dotti Clune, Barb Rohwer, Ruth Kelly and Carol Moore. 

Though reflecting on her own storied career working for the City, Bliss often turned the attention back on community advocates and local entrepreneurs who achieved their goals during the last two decades.

“It wasn’t local government that reinvigorated Ionia Street, Cherry Street, Wealthy Street, Bridge Street, Leonard Street, Grandville Avenue and increasingly Boston Square. It was people with a vision and a willingness to act. It was entrepreneurial investors, small business owners and non-profit leaders who saw the opportunities not only for their own livelihoods but for the long-term betterment of our community,” Bliss said. “The seed planters are many, far too many to name, yet the legacy of their stewardship surrounds us.”

Before closing out her final remarks, Bliss urged the attendees to take a tree sapling home with them as a parting gift.

“Grab a tree on your way out, get out your shovel when you get home and keep planting good things for the benefit of our community,” she said.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.