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Bridging 96: Detroit to Grand Rapids

10.31.08 | technician | In grand rapids

Between Michigan’s two largest metropolitan areas, Detroit and Grand Rapids, there has traditionally been some animosity from the smaller West Coast of Michigan towards the east and probably not enough attention paid from Metro Detroit towards the west. So Bridging 96, a collaboration between Crain’s Detroit Business and Grand Rapids Business Journal is a good idea whose time has come. The collaboration was kicked off with an exchange between the two cities’s business communities with a bus carrying 35 Grand Rapids business people to Detroit to see what’s going on in downtown Detroit.

Bridging 96 is a website and a newsletter and they even have a an Discussion Forum“>online forum which at this time is underactive to say the least. The kickoff event according to Mary Kramer’s blog:

In 12 hours, we:
* visited Studio One, the apartment complex on Woodward Avenue that Grand Rapids developer Marcel Burgler created in partnership with Wayne State University.
* had lunch at Centaur, the stylish nightclub on Park Avenue behind the Fox Theater.
* toured the Detroit Institute of Arts, the new Book Cadillac hotel and the Guardian Building.
* toured by bus Eastern Market and new and old housing in Midtown.
* heard creative-economy experts at the Creative Cities Summit at the Renaissance Center.
* closed the day with a rooftop party sponsored by Leadership Detroit on the roof of the Zaccaro’s market building on Woodward.

Afterwards members of the Detroit community went to Grand Rapids. No doubt they took I-96, the Michigan-only “interstate” Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Detroit. Grand Rapids and Detroit are often at odds in Lansing but hopefully improved communication like this among the business community will allow the state of Michigan to finally solve some of its economic problems.

As the nation faces recession and with economic conditions poignantly difficult in Southeast Michigan what’s going on in Grand Rapids? At the time as downtown Detroit has been experiencing a revival so has downtown Grand Rapids. Further comparing the two cities, downtown Grand Rapids and the whole city of Grand Rapids didn’t quite experience the shock and decline of Detroit. The population of the city has been basically stable near 200,000 for years and the city’s nonwhite population is a much smaller proportion. East Grand Rapids is still called East Grand Rapids. The greater Grand Rapids area has a population of around 1.3 million and the economic makeup has been shifting from furniture and manufacturing to medical research.

Many of these new jobs in the medical sciences are in the so-called “Medical Mile” which is according to Wikipedia: “Grand Rapids Medical Mile is approximately a mile of medical-related development in the Hillside District of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan bordering both sides of Michigan Street. It has also been referred to as Grand Rapids Medical Corridor, Michigan Street Medical Corridor, Health Hill, Medical Hill, and Pill Hill, among other names.” Although the district is mostly employees, patients, or students, the new construction includes mixed-use buildings.

There’s been nearly $2 billion in construction and renovation in downtown Grand Rapids in recent years. This includes the River House, Michigan’s tallest residential high-rise at 34 stories, new hotels like the elite luxury brand JW Marriott, a new art museum, convention center, and more. Around 2000 residences have been added to downtown Grand Rapids. The revitalization has extended into new identities for neighborhoods like Heartaside, Southtown, the Wealthy District, and more.

Grand Rapids’s skyline has been transformed and let’s more is that the city is doing it while being green. Grand Rapids is a national leader in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, more certified buildings per capita than any other city in the country and fourth in total number, more than cities like San Francisco and Austin and even our nation’s capital.

And then there are the zombies. Last night’s Grand Rapids broke the world record for the largest zombie walk with 3370 zombies walking around the streets of downtown Grand Rapids from Rosa Parks Circle. The event was organized by Rob Bliss who has organized other events in Grand Rapids in the past.


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