Downtown Grand Rapids Inc's mission is to continually elevate Downtown GR as the best-in-class heart of an American city. This regularly requires hearing citizen issues and ideas. Pursuit of this mission also requires conducting independent research to understand and evaluate promising practices and, based on that research, providing accurate information and pragmatic recommendations to inform local leadership discussions. This section features areas of interest and expertise where DGRI has served as an educational leader in city building discussions.
Opening the Food Truck Market
During the community-led GR Forward process, Grand Rapidians frequently identified food trucks as a strategic way to promote entrepreneurship and economic opportunity, activate under-performing public spaces, grow a vibrant food culture and attract more people to the city. At the time, food trucks were only allowed to do business on a limited basis at special events in public places and specially permitted instances on private property.
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. worked with the food truck community, business owners and City staff to design a new approach. In August 2016 the Grand Rapids City Commission approved a 2-year pilot ordinance that enables food trucks to operate on public property in several Downtown locations, industrial areas and select City parks. The ordinance also empowers citizens to consider the potential for food trucks in their neighborhoods and recommend expanding the City's food truck opportunity areas.
Optimizing Michigan's Downtown Development Authority Policy
The Michigan Legislature established the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) tool to empower communities with the flexibility to invest in locally determined economic development priorities. But the tool, established in 1975, is now 40+ years old and needs updating. Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., which administers the DDA on behalf of the people of the City of Grand Rapids, worked with state lawmakers and communities across Michigan to advance well-reasoned reform of state DDA policy. The Legislature in 2018 passed new policy that strengthened transparency, reporting and accountability standards for tax increment finance districts in Michigan.
Arena South Parking and Development Transition Strategy
As Downtown Grand Rapids continues to grow and prosper, new development brings both incredible opportunities and interesting challenges. This is particularly true in the Arena South district, where new development - occurring and proposed - on long-stranding surface parking lots raises transportation issues for existing businesses, institutions, employees, students, residents and other stakeholders.
New development in the area will expand the parking supply. But the construction period temporarily limits parking options. In 2014 Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. intentionally began engaging the City and neighborhood constituents to 1) gain a common understanding of the issues and 2) work collectively to identify effective strategies for adapting to change. The overarching goal is to expand parking and transportation choices in a way that ensures new development achieves success, existing investments are strenghtened and the neighborhood thrives.
Skateboard Ordinance Revision
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc's Alliance for Livability in 2015 supported the effort to allow skateboarding in Downtown streets, which was previously illegal. As a result of this successful initiative to update City policy, local law now treats skateboarders in Downtown the same as bicyclists. The primary purpose of the effort was to recognize skateboarding is a real and inexpensive transportation option for people, particularly students, and improve public safety especially on Downtown sidewalks.
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. in 2013 led the initiative to demonstrate the value of parklets, which typically take shape as sidewalk extensions that provide more space and amenities for people and businesses using the street. DGRI in 2014 published a manual on how to establish parklets in Grand Rapids and worked closely with the City to align local policies and incentives in support of parklet strategies. DGRI continues to work with local businesses to refine and prove the parklet concept locally. The overaarching goal is to improve the public realm and the enhance the Downtown experience for people.
Arena South Visioning
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. in 2013 led the initiative to engage the community in establishing a common vision for future development in the area south of Van Andel Arena. The resulting plan now serves as the guide for disposition of several publicly owned properties in the area and to ensure new projects are consistent with the community's city building goals.
Bike Parking Innovation
To serve the growing number of bicycling Grand Rapidians, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. has expanded short-term bike parking in the urban core by 300 percent since 2012. This ongoing initiative, guided by the recommendations of the Downtown Bicycle Parking Working Group, includes the deployment of the City's first bike corrals, which transform one on-street car parking space into parking for approximately 10 bikes. DGRI worked closely with the City Parking and Traffic Safety Departments to rethink on-street parking spaces and make the idea of bike corrals a reality.
Creative Sidewalk Dining Design
To support more and higher quality outdoor dining options, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. in 2013 led the initiative to clarify state and local guidelines for permitting restaurant seating areas on sidewalks in the public right of way. The result was a fresh approach to designing sidewalk cafes, particularly for establishments serving alcohol, that enable business owners new opportunities to deliver a more dynamic outdoor dining experience, increase sales and enhance the public realm. Toward those ends, DGRI regularly works with Downtown businesses and the City to explore creative strategies and tools to establish inviting outdoor spaces to relax, dine and socialize.