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Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:49

Q&A: Kristopher Larson, Executive Director Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority

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Q&A: Kristopher Larson, Executive Director Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority PHOTO: Elijah Brumback

A transplant from Long Beach, Calif., Kris Larson steps into his new position leading the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority after long-time executive Jay Fowler retired earlier this year. Larson tells MiBiz his colleagues nicknamed him “the translator” because of his experience bringing together both the public and private sectors.

Coming from Long Beach and Raleigh before that, what do you bring to the table for expanding opportunity in downtown Grand Rapids?

My expertise in the field of planning is highly downtown-related. My job in Long Beach was to … reposition policymaking to be a great municipal incentive rather than a detriment or barrier to investment. I worked in Downtown Raleigh N.C. and helped to shepherd in billions of dollars of investment into Raleigh at a period of time when real estate markets were very aggressive.

What does Grand Rapids do well and what does it need to work on?

We certainly have phenomenal infrastructure in the most technical sense of the term, but we are missing a couple of important pieces. Grand Rapids has made a lot of great investment to sort of put ammunition in the chamber. A lot have been catalytic investments and those are important, but they’re not the only tools. Oftentimes, you look beyond things that are the most obvious, which are jobs and housing.

How is the DDA going to change under your leadership?

I’d say the biggest change is going to be culture and pace. It’s really getting down to becoming the most responsive and thinking organization as we can. I hope to manage that cultural shift so we are responding to the needs of the community.

What is your approach in addressing the needs of the business community?

What we build is mainly the space between buildings — all of that connective tissue that ties together the downtown. Developers and others for the most part build the muscles. I have to be keyed in to their needs. We have to maintain constant communication with those groups because if you limit your exposure to two or three developers, you have to be very careful with that. I want to be able to test ideas and (get) feedback against a larger audience.

What is the DDA’s role?

We are an agent of the community, and we are a tool to help build a city. It has to be a grassroots model, and that means creating more avenues for participation. It’s going to take a lot of changes. But that is my goal and you can hold that to me three or five years from now and say, ‘Hey, have we been able to shepherd that change?’

Read 4814 times Last modified on Thursday, 27 September 2012 14:29

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