Grand Rapids

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids smashed the former world record for rubber chicken chucking set last April in a town near Boston. They got 265 people to toss rubber chickens at once. Last night Grand Rapids tossed an impressive 925.

The world record title marked the beginning of LaughFest. An event that'll take over much of Grand Rapids over the next 9 days. Those little yellow smiley faces representing the festival dot billboards, bar windows, churches; people even wear them as lapel pins.

Neighbors and business owners in a growing Grand Rapids neighborhood are standing up against a so-called urban terrorist. Since Christmas Day a number of businesses and a new condo development have been vandalized and struck by arson in East Hills. Dozens of residents have received letters threatening violence if they don’t move out. The letters say old neighbors have been priced out as new developments came in.

Kathryn Caliendo has been volunteering for the East Hill Council of Neighbors for 20 years.

“I don’t like the buzzwords anarchy, or gentrification and I don’t like the word terrorist. This is not political discourse. This is criminal activity. And that’s what I want it to be treated as.”

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

More than a dozen private business leaders are taking steps that would make it possible to merge Kent County and Grand Rapids to a single government. The One Kent Coalition includes more than a dozen lawyers, businessmen, and former elected officials.

Attorney Nyal Deems (former mayor of East Grand Rapids) presented the One Kent proposal to the Kent County Board of Commissioners Thursday. He says the coalition would like to see broader approach to governing the metro Grand Rapids region, rather than a number of smaller municipal governments.

 “All of our flow and economic interaction and cultural and social interaction ignores all those boundaries but governmentally we live by them. It would be good to mirror our communities more to match the way we live and work and function."

pawpaw67 / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids city and school district officials have met regularly for more than a decade to come up with ways to share services and facilities to benefit one another. Now, state budget concerns are pressuring them to look even harder for those cost-saving solutions.

Kurtis Garbutt / Flickr

Grand Rapids chef  Brian Gerrity with an idea for an underground supper club called “Fire & Knife” got $2,000 towards that goal.

“I’m a mercenary chef right now, chef for hire. It’s a fancy way of saying I’m unemployed."

He wants to offer a temporary venue where chefs don’t have to worry about normal constraints like food costs holding back their creativity.

(sha3teely.com)

The Grand Rapids Public Schools is teaming up with First Steps and Great Start Collaborative to launch what they are calling  "Early Learning Communities". 

  Early Learning Communities are focused on enriching the early learning experiences of young children by strengthening the skills of early childhood caregivers and educators.  The program is intended to improve readiness for school success by:

Ped Saunders / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids City Commission gave their support to a big motorcycle event scheduled to take place this summer. Organizers of a new big motorcycle rally were able to coax commissioners into supporting a shortened version of the original event.

Sean Ellis / Creative Commons

Organizers want to see a huge event for motorcycle enthusiasts in downtown Grand Rapids this summer. They've made a number of concessions to try and convince the city commission to allow the now 4-day event.

Photo courtesy of Fellowship of the Rich, Flickr

The City of Grand Rapids is working to revive its urban forest. Lindsey Smith visited the committee in charge of the effort to find out how things are going.

Three things to know about trees in Grand Rapids:

  1. The committee values the 61,000 trees within the city’s boundaries at $71 million.  (How'd they get that number?  It's based on the benefits trees provide: capturing storm water runoff, increasing property values, improving air quality and reducing heating and cooling costs for nearby buildings.)
  2. In 2010, more than 1,500 trees were planted in Grand Rapids.
  3. This year they’re working to add a wider variety of native trees - to better protect the urban forest from new pests and disease.  (i.e. things like the uber-destructive emerald ash borer)

Lindsey talked with Dottie Clune, the committee chair.  She says the importance of trees is often overlooked - especially these days with tight city budgets.

“We know that for every dollar we spent on the municipal urban forestry program we received $3.60 in benefits. That’s a pretty good return on investment.”

Steven Depolo / Flickr

Appointed officials in Grand Rapids agreed to scale back the wage increases they recently received.

In a press release, the City officials said they were "responding to Governor Rick Snyder's call for realigning public employee compensation."

City Manager Gregory Sundstrom, City Attorney Catherine Mish, and City Treasurer Lauri Parks said they will return to their salary levels that were in effect in 2009.

City Treasurer Albert Mooney agreed to return 2% of his salary increase.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that if their request is granted:

Sundstrom's pay will fall back to $142,000; Mish's pay will return to $114,092; Parks' pay will go back to $93.731; and Mooney's pay will fall to $108,755.

The officials said in 2010, "appointed officials again led by example, voluntarily accepting an additional 10% reduction in overall compensation." This included turning down a 2.5% pay increase that was scheduled to take effect on June 30, 2010.

The Grand Rapids officials say the the 2.5% pay increase was "received, and is still being enjoyed today,  by all of the City's unionized workforce."

The city is in the middle of re-negotiating it's collective contracts with the City's unionized workforce. And the negotiations are "difficult" as Mayor George Hearwell said in his State of the City address last Saturday.

As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported, Heartwell said:

The city’s financial future depends on city employees taking further concessions in pay and benefits.

"There’s no doubt in my mind that unless we tackle this problem today, we cannot be sustainable over the long term," says Heartwell.

The vast majority of the city's workforce in Grand Rapids is unionized.

I called up City Attorney Catherine Mish, one of the officials taking the pay cuts. I asked her whether she and the others are sending a signal to the city's unionized employees:

"I would have to say 'yes.' We're hoping the unions agree to similar concessions."

Mish said the unions are under current contracts that run from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

Grand Rapids’ Mayor George Heartwell painted his city as a destination for medical researchers, entrepreneurs, artists and young people in his State of the City address Saturday.

user stevendepolo / Flickr

After Newsweek named Grand Rapids as one of its ten "Dying Cities," Mayor George Heartwell sat down to express his feelings about the magazine's designation.

In a letter to Newsweek editor Tina Brown, Heartwell said "the citizens of Grand Rapids were astounded when you declared our city...to be a 'dying city.'"

From the letter:

Dying city? Surely Newsweek must be joking! Would a major medical School (Michigan State University School of Human Medicine) move its campus to a dying city? Would a dying city have seen $1.4 Billion in downtown construction in the past seven years?...Would a dying city have more LEED certified buildings per capita (2009) than any other American city?

The mayor might have been wise to ask whether rapper 50-cent would consider moving to a dying city as well.

He did invite Newsweek's Tina Brown to visit the city saying, "I'm afraid our timing is off to get you to a Kid Rock concert...that happens tonight. But if you want to see Lady GaGa at our Van Andel Arena there's still time; she's comes this spring."

Kate Mereand / Flickr

In case you missed it, Newsweek Magazine put out a Top Ten list last Friday. This top ten list was called "American's Dying Cities."

There's nothing like a provocative headline to get people to peek in.

For Michigan, it's the usual suspects: Flint and Detroit.

But many will be surprised that Grand Rapids also made the list.

No doubt about it, there are many urban areas around the country that are in decay. The question is, how do you measure the decay?

The writers at Newsweek said they looked at the latest census numbers (it's difficult to tell who at Newsweek looked at the numbers because there's no byline as far as I can tell):

We used the most recent data from the Census Bureau on every metropolitan area with a population exceeding 100,000 to find the 30 cities that suffered the steepest population decline between 2000 and 2009. Then, in an attempt to look ahead toward the future of these regions, we analyzed demographic changes to find which ones experienced the biggest drop in the number of residents under 18. In this way, we can see which cities may have an even greater population decline ahead due to a shrinking population of young people.

It's also difficult to tell which direction this list goes.

The cities are listed in their scrolling widget in one direction, and in their "view all" list in the opposite direction. So, for what's it's worth, here's the list (from their "view all" view):

  1. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  2. Flint, Michigan
  3. South Bend, Indiana
  4. Detroit, Michigan
  5. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  6. Cleveland, Ohio
  7. Rochester, New York
  8. Hialeah, Florida
  9. Vallejo, California
  10. New Orleans, Louisiana
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A new report out today paints a grim picture of Michigan’s schools.

Education Trust-Midwest says students in Michigan’s schools are not doing as well as test scores suggest, and the state’s education problems reach far beyond Detroit.

“We are far from a leader in education right now. Though glowing reports from state education leaders regularly inform us that the vast majority of our children (around 80 percent in elementary and middle schools) are meeting state standards, performance plummets when those students take the more rigorous national examinations.”

The report goes on to cite what it calls Michigan’s inflated standardized test scores (you can see some of the charts in the slide show above).

Its author, Amber Arellano, a former Detroit Free Press education reporter and Detroit News editorial board writer, says people tend to think of Detroit as the only school district in the state with major problems:

“Michigan really has a statewide education problem. This isn’t just about Detroit kids. It’s not just about African American kids. It’s about white kids, it’s about brown kids, it’s about black kids. It’s really about kids all over the state.”

Arellano says it might surprise people to know that students in other districts – including Flint, Lansing, Pontiac, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo – have all registered lower proficiency rates than their Detroit counterparts.

Chelsea Oakes / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids has a new smartphone ‘app’ that people can use to report things like potholes and graffiti. IPhone and Android users can download the GRCity 311 application for free. Just head to your providers’ app marketplace.

Grand Rapids Symphony
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Symphony

It's not all bad news coming out of the symphony world.

The Grand Rapids Symphony is the second largest orchestra in Michigan, after the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. And yet the two arts organizations finances couldn't be farther apart. The GR Symphony posted a $65,000 budget surplus for the 2010 fiscal year; the DSO posted an $8.8 million deficit.

ARtPrize
Rich Evenhouse

Grand Rapids’ Fire Department is putting out a fire of sorts this week. They’re waiving thousands of dollars in inspection fees related to this year’s ArtPrize event.

Most everyone loved ArtPrize. But not everyone who volunteered a venue for the event loved getting a bill in the mail last week for fire inspections. The city’s fire department charged around $50 for every 5 artists a venue had.

The information was included in a handbook given to each venue. Apparently, not everyone read the fine print and now the city is admitting communication wasn’t very good on their end either. So they’re waiving all of the inspection fees - about $20,000 worth.

George Heartwell
Steven Depolo

“There are so many exciting things happening in Grand Rapids right now when so much of the rest of Michigan is in chaos that I just quite honestly feel its fun and a great honor to represent this city as its mayor.”

Heartwell’s current term expires at the end of next year. If he’s elected and serves out a third term, Heartwell would tie his predecessor John Logie as the Grand Rapids’ longest serving mayor. Grand Rapids is the state's second largest city.

Former president Georgy W. Bush in Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update 4:23pm

Lindsey Smith just sent in this quote from former president George Bush's talk today in Grand Rapids:

"Like in '44 if somebody in Grand Rapids, Michigan said 'I predict someday America and Japan will stand shoulder to shoulder to enhance mutual security' they would have said 'what a hopeless, idealistic nut-job you are'. But democracy transformed an enemy to an ally. I know it sounds far-fetched for some that people want to be free in the Middle East and that freedom will take hold - I think it will."

Update 3:53 pm

The event with George W. Bush in Grand Rapids just wrapped up and reporter Lindsey Smith called in with some of her highlights from the talk:

  • Bush's opening line - "Most people didn't think I couldn't read a book, much less write one."
  • Bush said after his presidency it was like going from 100 mph to 10 mph and he had to figure out what to do with all his extra time
  • About the firing of Donald Rumsfeld Bush said that his relationship with him had gone from one of "creative tension" to one of "destructive tension."
  • About 9/11 and the decision to go into Iraq Bush said that it was a bold move that had to be made. He was disappointed that no WMDs were found. He also says that 9/11 changed his mind about preemptive strikes. If he hadn't done it, he believes there would have been a dangerous nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq.
  • Bush says he's still in touch with Condoleezza Rice, but doesn't talk much with Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld.
  • He said he doesn't judge Barack Obama, and won't be pulled into criticizing or commenting on him and his presidency.

Update 12:42 pm:

Our reporter at the event, Lindsey Smith, says Secret Service told the media that laptops are not allowed. So, it might be that we have to wait for updates until after the former President speaks.

___

6:44 am

Former President George W. Bush will be in Grand Rapids this afternoon.  He'll be promoting his new book "Decision Points" at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

This is the former President's second visit to Grand Rapids this year.  He attended the Economic Club of Grand Rapids in June.

ArtPrize event in Grand Rapids
Rich Evenhouse / flickr user

The organizers of Artprize announced Wednesday the dates for next year’s contest. The winner of the art competition is decided by the voting public who visit the event in downtown Grand Rapids.

Not much will change for next year’s contest besides the thousands of art installations. This year the event had more artists, venues and people casting ballots for their favorite works. Organizers want to see the momentum continue through ArtPrize 2011, so they’re not messing with the formula too much.

Cavalry Study
MattVAndyK/Flickr

ArtPrize's organizers are announcing plans for the 3rd annual art competition next year in Grand Rapids.  The event will run in 2011 from September 21st through October 9th.

The Associated Press reports:

Organizers say they again expect top 10 prizes totaling $449,000 will be awarded. The public picks winners online and by cell phone in "American Idol"-style voting.

This year's ArtPrize was a 19-day event with the winner, Chris LaPorte of Grand Rapids, receiving the top prize of $250,000.

Update - Tues. 11/30/10 8:22 AM:

It's been confirmed that the former President will, indeed, visit Grand Rapids on Thursday.  He'll visit the Gerald R. Ford Museum as part of his nation-wide tour to promote his new book, Decision Points.

______

The Grand Rapids Press is reporting that former President George W. Bush will be at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids on Thursday.

According to Krisin Mooney, a museum public affairs specialist, the former president will be at the museum at 2PM.

Mooney said other information about the former president's visit will be released later this afternoon.

Bush was last in Grand Rapids in June to speak at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids.

RMS Titanic at the docks
author unknown / creative commons

Chris Knape has a piece in the Grand Rapids Press about hedge fund manager and bar owner, Mark Sellers.

Sellers moved back to Grand Rapids around three years ago where he owns the bars Hopcat, Stella’s Lounge and Viceroy.

Girbe Eefsting, John Acdespres, and Jen Pider
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A celebration of Michigan-made films starts Friday night in Grand Rapids. The second annual Michigan Film Festival runs through Sunday. The films are winners of other film festivals across the state or were recommended by college film programs.

Former GM Wyoming Stamping Plant
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith covered the auction at the former GM Wyoming Stamping plant. The plant closed in June 2009 as part of GM's bankruptcy.

The auction was held on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The auctioneers said they'll sell off anything leftover today.

Smith said it was easy to get lost as she took photos of the more than 2 million square foot building. Here's an audio slideshow she put together:

aPorte works on one panel of his pencil drawing that won ArtPrize
artprize.org

A new survey shows this year's ArtPrize attracted more people from outside Grand Rapids than last year's contest. Preliminary numbers show half the people who participated in ArtPrize came from outside of the Grand Rapids area. Only 6% came from outside of Michigan.

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