Published in Economic Development
Relief funding available for GR businesses as murals cover downtown storefronts PHOTO: KATE CARLSON

Relief funding available for GR businesses as murals cover downtown storefronts

BY Friday, June 12, 2020 10:30am

GRAND RAPIDS — About 100 downtown businesses were damaged after May 30 protests of police brutality, causing an estimated $500,000 in damages for window repair and storefront replacement.

Though most of the costs are expected to be covered by downtown building owners and insurance claims, the Downtown Development Authority approved additional aid for affected businesses. 

The DDA authorized the remaining $218,031 in its fiscal year 2020 Downtown Enhancement Grant line item to financially support any businesses damaged. Funds can be accessed without the standard application fee, matching contribution and committee review process. The DDA authorized the economic relief subcommittee to approve any expenditures exceeding $15,000. 

Existing guidelines and criteria will be waived for businesses applying to get relief to rebuild, say DDA officials. The majority of applicants will likely have property damage in the $10,000-$15,000 range based on city assessments.

“As for local glass contractors, we’re trying to identify some potential minority contractors in the city as we rebuild,” Tim Kelly, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. executive director, said during the June 10 DDA meeting.

Grand Rapids is among cities across the country where protesters are taking to the streets in a movement for racial justice sparked by the death of George Floyd when a former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. 

Most of the damage to downtown Grand Rapids storefronts happened late in the night on May 30 and early morning of May 31 by a significantly smaller group of people than the estimated 3,000-4,500 who gathered at the beginning of the protest. Volunteers swiftly cleaned the streets the next morning, clearing glass scrubbing graffiti and boarding up storefronts.

The $500,000 damage estimate does not account for the cost of business interruption, Kelly said, but the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation has also created a relief fund. Funding from the chamber foundation can be used for both repairs and to cover the cost of business interruption, and will be coordinated with DDA funding.

Murals emerge

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. also partnered with Lions & Rabbits gallery to commission local artists to paint plywood on boarded up businesses. More than 230 artists expressed interest in participating in the project, Kelly said, and about 120 windows have been painted so far. More are planned. 

“Everyone is interested in beautifying what otherwise would have been blank plywood,” Kelly said. “We’re proud that we’re working closely with Lions & Rabbits and building owners on the project.”

Most storefronts on Monroe Center and throughout downtown are boarded up, some as a precaution for potential damage. Murals painted by local artists portray messages of hope, racial unity, and phrases like “Black Lives Matter.” Artists were paid $100 per window, Kelly said, and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. contributed money for paint. 

Evette Pittman, supervisor of the city of Grand Rapids’s Office of Special Events, said the mural project has “created a mini Art Prize feel,” amid the announcement this week that the major arts event is canceled this year due to COVID-19. Pittman said the city is exploring options to continue showcasing the murals in public spaces after the windows are replaced.

“We’re in conversations now about what we can provide to have something for people to come out and enjoy in the fall,” she said. “In the meantime we invite people to come downtown and look at the beautiful art that’s on the wooden panels in the windows.”

MiBiz Managing Editor Andy Balaskovitz contributed to this story.

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