Those old enough to remember South Division Avenue between Hall and 28th Street in the ‘50s and ‘60s recall a vibrant business destination. People from Grand Rapids and Wyoming went to movies at the Four Star Theatre, shopped the Woolworths five-and-dime, or had lunch at Kewpee’s Restaurant. The area’s current business and property owners are working to make it a destination once again through the establishment of the South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority.
In 2005, the Michigan Legislature established Public Act 280 “Corridor Improvement Authority Act” to prevent deterioration in business districts, encourage historic preservation, and promote economic growth in districts with roadways designated as corridors. The City of Grand Rapids has five areas that meet the requirements for establishment as Corridor Improvement Districts (CID). On the north side, one CID includes Creston, Chesire, and a portion of North Monroe neighborhoods. The West Side CID includes Stockbridge, West Fulton, Bridge, and Seward areas. East Michigan Street comprises a third CID while the Uptown, East Fulton, Wealthy, and Eastown neighborhoods form a fourth. Being designated as a CID allows a business district to organize and receive City funds for improvements that provide economic opportunities.
“These districts have been a big success. They have a formal organizing authority, so they now have the ability to realize revenue from the City. The City makes that contribution annually,” says Kara L. Wood, managing director, Economic Development Services for the City of Grand Rapids. “Some of the successes have been in marketing and promotion of the district. Others have been in building public infrastructure like bike racks and trash receptacles. These dollars have also funded events for the businesses to generate traffic.”
Earlier this month, the city commission established the fifth—and Grand Rapids’ last—area designated as a CID. The South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority encompasses an area between Hall and 28th streets and the Grandville Avenue business corridor between Wealthy Street and Clyde Park Avenue, with both corridors connected by Hall and Burton streets.
Prior to establishing the new CID, the City formed a small leadership team that included business and property owners from the district. Through a year-long process that included a series of visioning sessions and three public input meetings, they built a framework for work on an area specific plan that describes how they want their district to look and feel. These stakeholders believe having a Corridor Improvement Authority will bring about of a safe and walkable corridor, improved and enhanced public infrastructure, and thriving locally-owned businesses. The City hopes the CID will prevent further infrastructure deterioration, encourage neighborhood economic growth, and preserve the area’s unique identity.
“They want it to feel welcoming for all businesses and be an exciting place to do business,” Wood says. “The focus of these authorities in on the business aspect as opposed to residential, as a foundation for improving the district.”
Now that the City has established the new Corridor Improvement Authority, the city commission can seat its actual board members, who will then meet to set plans in motion. Ideas for improvement discussed during the public input meetings included improved lighting, art and murals, bilingual wayfinding signs, traffic calming measures, improved walkability, more parks and green spaces, roofed benches at bus stops, and trash receptacles.
“Hopefully, the CID will attract new businesses who are willing to invest long term and give back to a community investing in them while building unity,” says Synia Jordan, CID steering committee member. “Utilizing the CID is one way our business district might leverage beautification efforts, which will attract the attention of visitors who may be willing to spend money in our area on a continual basis.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids