A team of local city building professionals today presented Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and the City Commission with a framework for how city government can systemically modernize its economic development tools to provide all Grand Rapidians the opportunity for a better life through expanded access to housing, transportation and jobs.

The overarching goal of the proposed strategy is to evolve the traditional public policies, practices and incentives that support new development in a way that builds a more equitable, inclusive and ultimately prosperous city.

“We aspire to build a welcoming and inclusive community that ensures all Grand Rapidians share in our city’s continued prosperity,” Mayor Bliss said.

“We are grateful for these recommendations. The City Commission will give these proposed strategies full and careful consideration as we work to stem widening inequality by accelerating our progress toward an equity-driven growth model that supports our local businesses and residents, lifts up our most disadvantaged communities and promotes opportunity for all.”

The proposed framework outlines specific initiatives that aim to strengthen the local commitment to proactively promote more inclusive growth across the City of Grand Rapids. These actions – many of which cost little to no money to implement – include but are not limited to:

  • Establish a geographic focus to guide the use of public development incentives. Specifically, the framework recommends targeting future incentives along transit corridors and in disinvested neighborhoods.
  • Utilize the proceeds from public land sales to provide more financial resources to promote more affordable housing options. The framework recommends setting aside 25 percent of the revenue from future city property sales to support new affordable housing development.
  • Prioritize the types of development activities that qualify for public financial incentives. The framework recommends encouraging amenities that contribute to a more walkable, bikeable and transit-accessible city.
  • Require developers utilizing public incentives to contract with a specific yet-to-be determined percentage of local businesses for the purchase of goods and services.
  • Develop an equitable economic development strategy with a clear vision and criteria for success that provides guidance for investors, residents and other community stakeholders.
  • Develop a comprehensive transportation vision and plan to meet the rising demand for mobility services. The framework recommends establishing a Department of Transportation that brings all of the city’s transportation responsibilities – currently scattered across multiple departments – under a unified and streamlined department structure focused on building a 21st mobility system.
  • Appoint a Chief Participation Officer to optimize meaningful citizen engagement in public decision-making.
  • Establish a Citizen Learning Institute to inform and empower citizens to participate effectively in local planning, design and decision-making.
  • Align state and local economic development incentives to maximize the return on investment of taxpayer dollars and ensure state tools work to achieve locally preferred outcomes.

The proposed framework flows from Grand Rapids’ participation in the Daniel Rose Fellowship, a flagship program of the Urban Land Institute’s Rose Center for Public Leadership. The purpose of the program is to provide city leaders with the insights, peer-to-peer learning and analysis required to successfully improve and grow their cities.

The Grand Rapids team of fellows that developed the proposed framework includes:

  • Kara Wood, City of Grand Rapids Economic Development Director
  • Josh Naramore, Mobile GR & Parking Service Manager
  • Kristopher Larson, immediate past President/CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
  • Tim Kelly, interim President/CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

The GR team was advised and supported by a group of accomplished urban design and development practitioners from across the U.S. who toured Grand Rapids and met with residents and leaders to understand the local context, challenges and opportunities. These experts included:

  • Philadelphia-based architect Antonio Fiol-Silva of SITIO Architecture + Urbanism
  • Calvin Gladney, managing partner of Washington, D.C.-based Mosaic Urban Partners
  • Mara Kimmel, Anchorage Office of Resilience team lead
  • Nanci Klein, assistant director of economic development and director of real estate for the City of San José 
  • District of Columbia Office of Planning Director Eric Shaw
  • Maggie Campbell, executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • Cristina Garmendia, senior research fellow at the Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity at Rutgers University
  • Ellen Harpel, founder of Smart Incentives and president of Business Development Advisors in Arlington, Va.
  • Baltimore-based commercial/ mixed-use developer Christopher Kurz of Linden Associates, Inc.
  • Troy Russ, urban design and transportation practice builder in Kimley-Horn’s Denver office.

Grand Rapidians also played a central role in shaping the proposed framework. The recommendations are based on the values, insights and feedback of more than 100 citizens who participated in a series of community conversations from March to September 2017.

Upon receiving the presentation of framework of recommendations, the City Commission now has the opportunity to review the proposals and determine any next steps.

“Grand Rapids is in a strong economic position,” Mayor Bliss said. “We must continue our forward thinking and work together to ensure we are growing a community where all residents have an opportunity to flourish. The public sector can support this movement by establishing an effective framework of civic goals, policies, investments and incentives to ensure our city grows into a great place for everybody to live, learn, work and play.”

Presentation Materials

All documents in PDF format.