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RapidChat: Mary Sierawski

As office manager and head of human resources at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), it's safe to say that Mary Sierawski keeps herself pretty occupied with all things urban. With her involvement in substantial community development projects such as GR Forward and other interactive public activities such as 'Valent-ICE', Mary says it's a great time to be a Grand Rapidian.
Mary Sierawski

As office manager and head of human resources at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), it's safe to say that Mary Sierawski keeps herself pretty occupied with all things urban. With her involvement on substantial community development projects such as GR Forward and other interactive public activities such as 'Valent-ICE,' Mary says it's a great time to be a Grand Rapidian. 
RC: How long have you lived in Grand Rapids?
MS: Life-long resident of Grand Rapids. Born and raised. 
RC: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
MS: I went to Grand Valley State University and majored in English. Following that, I received my master’s degree in 2011 from Western Michigan University in human resource development. A lot of my classes were located in downtown Grand Rapids, which I think is something that a lot of people don’t realize is offered by WMU. It was a great experience, to say the least, and I really enjoyed going to all of my classes in this environment.
RC: What inspired you to continue your education and get your master’s degree?
MS: I decided to get a master’s degree because I really believe in ongoing professional development and continuous learning in the workplace. I think that people are any organization’s greatest asset, and receiving an education to that degree really spoke to that.
RC: What was your first place of employment after you received your master’s degree?
MS: At the completion of my master’s I was at Fox 17, though shortly after I graduated I received the opportunity to work with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) in 2012 - where I currently work.
When I was first hired onto the team, DGRI was then known as the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA).  Upon my hire, I knew that we were going to be embarking on the transition, and with my experience, it was expected that I would help with the ground-up transition into DGRI.
RC: Why did the DDA decide to embark on the transition into DGRI?
MS: DGRI was an idea that came out of the framework plan, which was a plan that was created a few years back to help increase efficiencies within the downtown area. Since there were so many downtown organizations, the goal was to have one overarching management system. In addition to that, we wanted to become more of a community-based organization that served the needs and wants of the community,
RC: What has your experience been like with working with DGRI?
MS: It has really been great having the opportunity to meet all the people in the community that are doing amazing work for Grand Rapids. People really care about the health and vibrancy of our community and the energy is really motivating.
In addition to that, I have particularly enjoyed being around all the great women that I have met along the way. There is such a strong support network amongst the women that I have met in my time and they are all doing such incredible things. They have been truly inspirational to me professionally, as well as personally.
RC: Can you tell me one thing that the general public may not know about DGRI?
MS: All in all, we love creating vibrancy downtown, and this is especially true through our events. These events are created to be all-inclusive and free to the public. The things we do are open to everyone and anyone is welcome to participate.
As an organization, we try to create opportunities for anyone to come downtown, feel welcome, and that they can bring their families down to participate in fun events. We love hearing from the community, so we try to make the events as interactive as possible, which is why we have initiated a voting system for some of our events. What this means is that the public can vote on what movies they want to see (Movies in the Park), what ice sculpture is their favorite (Valent-ICE), and their favorite window display for Window Wonderland
RC: When did you first initiate this voting process?
MS: Our very first experience with the voting system took place in January of 2013, which was the pubic vote deciding on what color the Blue Bridge should be painted.  When we were embarking on the Blue Bridge revamp, and this was one of the first things we wanted to know from the community. While the bridge obviously has remained the same color blue, we got a lot of great data out of the experience. The fact that we played around with the idea of changing its color inspired us to install LED lights, which allows us to temporarily change the color. For Valentines Day we will be turning the bridge pink. We also do this for a lot of other holidays, as well as community events.
RC: One of the most recent projects DGRI is taking on along with the city and Grand Rapids Public Schools is ‘GR Forward’.  How would you describe this plan of action to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
MS: GR Forward is a combination of the downtown plan and river activation plan. The plan will be the master plan for the next 10 years of downtown Grand Rapids. As of right now, the community has helped to establish six goals. The community has told us that they want to, first and foremost, create a true downtown neighborhood with more housing options, more retail, more services, and more activity. Following that, we aim to accomplish the actual restoration of the river, strengthen the connection between places, ensure continued vitality, create an equitable river corridor, and finally, reinvest in public space. You can find out more about GR Forward on Facebook or at www.grforward.org. This is our biggest endeavor as an organization as of now.
RC: What are some changes we can expect to see in 2015?
MS: The plan is going to be finished in July of this year. Once the city commission passes it, we can get started on implementing the plan. But, as always, the community can still look forward to the same great events that DGRI has hosted such as Movies in Park and one that is right around the corner - Valent-ICE.
RC: Tell me more about ‘Valent-ICE’ then, since it is coming up so soon!
MS: This is the 2nd year we have put on the event, and it has expanded in scope to include 25 ice sculptures in front of different downtown businesses, with one large sculpture in front of the GRAM. Valent-ICE came out of the community input and what we heard is that people wanted to see more winter activation. We came up with the idea to do an ice sculpture event that is perfect for the winter season and includes Valentine’s Day as well!
RC: Is there anything else you would like to highlight on any of the previous subjects we covered?
MS: I just am so pumped about everything that is going on downtown and in our community. I would encourage anyone interested to get involved because it’s a really exciting time for Grand Rapids.  

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media
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