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Envisioning the future of Grand Rapids: how best to utilize downtown, riverfront

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. along with the City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Public Schools have launched a comprehensive planning process to inform the direction of downtown and the riverfront.
Kids during ArtPrize

Kids during ArtPrize /Courtesy of DGRI

Underwriting support from:
River front city scape

River front city scape /Courtesy of DGRI

Downtown plan steering committee

Downtown plan steering committee /Courtesy of DGRI

Written by Tim Kelly, Planning Manager, DGRI

When you think of Downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River, do you find yourself thinking about what is there now, or do you imagine the potential of what could be?

Grand Rapids is in the midst of making a dramatic transition from being a city of sprawl to re-focusing on two of the city’s strongest assets: the Grand River and Downtown. Grand Rapids Forward is a comprehensive planning process that invites the public to join Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools, and their partners in envisioning the many ways in which we can leverage this momentum to make progress towards a holistic vision for Downtown, the Grand River, and the Grand Rapids Public Schools Central Campus and Museum School. 

GR Forward will establish a public investment plan for Downtown, its resources and the Grand River over the next 10 years. It will replace the existing Downtown Plan, entitled Voices and Visions, adopted more than two decades ago in 1993. It will also chart the course for the future of the Grand River, and will seek to underscore the role that quality public education plays in creating a livable community. 

GR Forward will be developed through a holistic analysis of areas of opportunity such as economic development, education, housing and transportation. Volunteer steering committees are helping to guide the process, each focusing on their respective focus areas for the broader plan.

In February 2014, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board awarded Interface Studio a contract to serve as the lead consultant for this planning effort, based on the recommendation of a volunteer selection committee. Interface Studio will partner with DGRI and City staff to oversee GR Forward and to ensure that it meets the community’s expectations and visions. The planning process is expected to last 12 to 14 months.

The committees will play an integral role in shaping the process for the Plan. Among their responsibilities are advisement on public participation strategies, making sure the stakeholder engagement is comprehensive and participation in developing Plan recommendations that will contribute to project deliverables. 

Committee members will work closely with DGRI staff and their hired consultant to make certain the Plan is representative of the community vision for Downtown. Additionally, it is expected that the Committee will promote the Plan within the community and inform citizens on the importance of the issues being addressed. 

As part of the outreach and education of GR Forward, The Rapidian will begin running essays from steering committee participants. The essays will run monthly, and will cover a variety of elements to be addressed in the Plan. The intent of each essay is to allow participants in GR Forward to describe why they are choosing to be involved, and to also describe their hopes for the outcomes of the process.

For further information on the GR Forward, be sure to check back in the Place Matters section and visit the project website, which will feature up-to-date information on everything related to the planning efforts. The website will list upcoming public participation events, include an inventory of all the work and research collected to date and host an interactive space for community members to provide feedback. Public engagement will be encouraged through the website, public meetings, community surveys and interviews. Interested stakeholders can register for updates on GR Forward through the website.

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