Published in Breaking News
The 16-acre city-owned property at 201 Monroe Ave. SW could be a good place for the city of Grand Rapids to test new models for equitable development, according to land use experts. The 16-acre city-owned property at 201 Monroe Ave. SW could be a good place for the city of Grand Rapids to test new models for equitable development, according to land use experts. COURTESY IMAGE

Land use experts encourage GR to pilot equitable development policies at 201 Market

BY Sunday, March 26, 2017 08:00am

GRAND RAPIDS — Commercial real estate and city government stakeholders view a soon-to-be-vacated riverfront site as an ideal laboratory for testing a more equitable model of development.  

Last week, a group of national urban planners told city of Grand Rapids leaders they should pilot new policies and goals around equitable development in conjunction with plans to vacate a 16-acre city-owned property at 201 Market Ave. SW along the Grand River.

Visiting fellows from the Rose Center for Public Leadership offered that and other suggestions last Thursday to a crowd of nearly 100 gathered at Grand Rapids City Hall. The Washington, D.C.-based policy organization partners with cities around the country on issues related to land use and works in conjunction with the Urban Land Institute and the National League of Cities.

“It’s the right direction,” said Max Benedict, a principal at Grand Rapids-based Third Coast Development LLC, referring to the recommendations the Rose Center fellows delivered.

Benedict’s firm develops mixed-income housing, with a particular focus on the growing Michigan Street corridor east of Spectrum Health’s campus.

“I guess time will tell what the actionable items are,” Benedict said. “But it echoes our strategy that we’ve been pursuing all along. No matter what price point you can afford, we want you to be able to live on our corridor. I feel it takes that and kind of applies that on a city level.”

Development sources told MiBiz that the 201 Market site makes for an ideal location to begin implementing goals and metrics around equity and inclusion, precisely because any work on the location will come years in the future. That gives stakeholders time to work on what those policies should look like.

According to the visiting Rose Center fellows, city leaders in both the public and private sectors have considerable work to do.

“You’re at the place where you’re stating (equity) is important,” said Nanci Klein, assistant director of economic development and director of real estate for the City of San Jose in California. “But we have not seen what equity means to you, as a collective, so you can all get behind it. And then how does it drive into the policies? You’ve got limited resources — every city does.

“If you’re going to have policies that talk about equity … you’ve got to make some choices about what people spend time on in a day.”

For the last eight years, the Rose Center has selected four city mayors for the fellowship, which was established to provide public officials with access to information, best practices, peer networks and other resources on land use policies. Grand Rapids was selected this year along with Anchorage, Alaska, San Jose, Calif. and Washington, D.C.

The Rose Center fellows spent the week in Grand Rapids meeting with a variety of public- and private-sector leaders, culminating in the Thursday session.

Around 10 Rose Center fellows, including Klein, addressed the crowd about mobility, financing incentives and the development of new housing, all with a focus on how they can be implemented in a manner that drives more inclusion within the city.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss cautioned attendees of the meeting that the city had not yet heard any of the recommendations before they were presented.

Other presenters echoed Klein in observing that despite all the talk from Grand Rapids business leaders and city officials about making development more equitable, there’s still a lot of work to be done around defining what that means.

“Something that struck us, if everyone is having that conversation about inequity, and everyone is thinking about it, then equity has not been clearly defined,” said Antonio Fiol-Silva, a Rose Center fellow and a principal at Philadelphia architecture firm SITIO Architecture and Urbanism. “What does it really mean, where the rubber meets the road? How can you define what it means and how can you define goals for it?”

The Rose Center’s recommendations come as Bliss has specified increasing community equity as a key priority of her administration.

“I think economic opportunity is the key to equity,” Bliss told MiBiz in late 2016. “It’s about empowerment, access to opportunity, access to resources and breaking down barriers, and then addressing structural and systemic racism. That’s more complicated, but if we’re going to get where we want to be and be more a diverse and inclusive community where we don’t have the racial disparities that exist today, we have to do that.”

To that end, the visiting Rose Center fellows offered some conclusions and “homework” for city leaders, including identifying their top three equity priorities, coming up with “examples that align policy with practice” in implementing them, and exploring how the city can “embed equity into the current solicitation process for 201 Market.”

To Third Coast Development’s Benedict, those conclusions can go a long way with helping to achieve a more equitable community. However, he concedes that it’s not a simple process, but rather one that requires constant reassessment.

“If it was something that could have been solved with a three-day experiment, then shame on us for not doing it (earlier),” Benedict said. “But it’s not that simple. (Third Coast Development) has been at it for more than a year. We’re still figuring out what are the right answers.”

Additional Info

  • Image_Position: Full
Read 3346 times Last modified on Sunday, 26 March 2017 20:14
SUBSCRIBE TO MIBIZ TODAY FOR WEST MICHIGAN’S FINEST BUSINESS NEWS REPORTING >