GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – It’s an area of Grand Rapids rich in tradition, but some say ‘The Westside’ is falling behind the growth we’ve seen in other parts of the city. Now a group of city leaders and business owners says they have a plan to revitalize it.
We’re talking about the West Fulton business district, the Stockbridge business district, the West Leonard business district, and the West Grand Neighborhoods.
Those who live or do business in the Westside of Grand Rapids talk about the area’s rich tradition, how it has a ‘feel’ to it. West Leonard Street, for example, has nearly 200 businesses in a one-and-a-half-mile stretch, the longest commercial strip in the city.
But the numbers from a recent study conducted by The Westside Corridor Improvement District (CID) Steering Committee show population in the Westside has dropped 3.2% in the past 13 years. And 30% of the businesses in the area are vacant or underutilized.
The question for some is how can the area cash in on the Westside cache while also making modern changes.
Dave Shaffer is a Grand Rapids City Commissioner in the Westside. He and a team of other city leaders and business owners have been looking for that question for years. “Look for some branding and marketing ways that bring up those traditions in the neighborhood that kind of make it unique,” he said, “something that can draw people in.”
Shaffer said it starts with something small, a CID designation from the city would free up tax dollars to begin revitalization projects. “So as you see new developments come, that will actually fund future infrastructure development in the area,” he said.
It’s a gradual process starts with street-scape work, Shaffer said. “First off, let’s put in some trees along the sidewalks, and find some places that would really green up, and change how that look and feel was.”
From there, the plans call for road repairs, street lights for added security, and improving business store fronts. Westsiders are convinced there is a demand for the area, it’s just a matter of convincing others of the vision.
“When you see a good local business like Arnie’s decide to rebuild there, you see a corporate partner like Walgreens go, that means the Westside is an area that has been looked at sized up in terms of opportunity. If it’s a good spot for them to go, it’s probably a good spot for others to go,” said Shaffer.
The city commissioner said a public hearing on the plans will be presented at a commission meeting this spring. He said part of the long term vision will include mixed-use development but said that step is still five to ten years away. No estimate was given for the cost of these projects.