Last week, May 6, the citizens of Grand Rapids voted 2-to-1 for a ballot proposal to extend the temporary income tax raise until 2030 to pay for the rebuilding of its streets and roads. They also approved a measure that would make the city - via taxes - responsible for sidewalk repairs.
Previously homeowners were assessed the costs of sidewalk replacement, typically upon the sale of their homes. The proposal was sharply contested by the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association, but the 13.7% of taxpayers who made it to the polls showed significant support for the measure.
This is the second time in the last three years that taxpayers have voted for change in their transportation infrastructure. They previously voted in May 2011 for the construction of a high-speed Silver Line bus line on Division Avenue as well as extended and expanded routes.
Currently the roads in Grand Rapids are rated 60 percent poor, a fact that creates a barrier to employment for lower wage workers who must commute to their jobs but cannot afford to pay for new suspensions or shocks every year, even if these auto parts are manufactured locally. With better roads, more comprehensive mass transportation, and other options for travel, such as dedicated bike lanes, it should be easier for would be employees to hurdle that entry to regular work.
The Grand Rapids business community has also grown in tandem with the development of the Silver Line. Grand Valley State University has continued to expand its downtown Pew Campus, last year opening the Seidman Center, which includes the Seidman College of Business.
The Downtown Market also opened to great fanfare last summer. The Medical Mile continues to expand. Michigan State University is planning a new biomedical research center on the site of the soon-to-be demolished old Grand Rapids Press building.
All along the future Silver Line route, buildings have been under the hammer. Tower Pinkster now occupies the gorgeously renovated Art Moderne building at the corner of Fulton and Division. Kendall College of Art and Design has extended itself into the refurbished former Federal Building. Just off of Division, Founder’s Brewing Company added a $26 million expansion with beer garden to its amenities.
The energy downtown is completely different than it was a decade or so ago. What was an empty and derelict downtown is now bustling with shoppers and businessmen, and regularly flooded with runners, swing dancers and ice skaters in season, happy to window shop, attend a performance at the Civic, or eat at any one of the fine restaurants in Grand Rapids's ever expanding food scene.
It’s an exciting time to be living in the city and see that, despite all of the economic storms of the past decade, Grand Rapids continues to thrive, build, and innovate.