Grand Rapids

Josh Leffingwell / Friends of Transit

People in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker will vote this November on whether to withdraw from the regional bus system. Now transportation supporters are fighting back.

Supporters of the bus system in metro Grand Rapid held a kick-off rally in defense of the bus sytem, known as The Rapid.

Barbara Holt is a Walker City Commissioner and chairwoman of the regional transit authority. She and other business leaders at the rally said keeping Walker connected is vital to the overall community's economy.

“People can stay in Walker, go shopping someplace else, go working someplace else but we all come back. It’s so important that we do not isolate ourselves from the region,” Holt said.

“I use it for work, when I was working on my masters degree I used for school, medical appointments. I use it for everything,” Walker resident Tom Gilson said.

Steven Depolo / Flickr

ArtPrize 2012 has opened in Grand Rapids.

It's the fourth time round for the huge art exhibition and contest. This year, more than 1,500 artists are competing for $560,000 in prize money. And it's all there--from art that inspires to art that could outrage--and it does get folks talking.

Cyndy spoke with ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos.

She wanted to know how ArtPrize differs from shows like the Ann Arbor Art Fairs?

The main difference, he said, was that it’s not specifically a marketplace.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Thousands of people walked around downtown Grand Rapids for the kickoff of ArtPrize 2012 Wednesday.

1,517 artists are competing for more than half-a-million dollars in the art competition.

There’s so much art here I don’t even have to leave my office building to find some. Neither did Amy Norkus. I ran into the CPA in the lobby of our building taking a picture of a 20 foot long, very detailed quilt.

"I love it. For me to be able to work downtown and walk around and see art, it’s a real treat. It gets me away from all the numbers I have to deal with all day long,” Norkus said.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Hundreds of works of art are being installed across Grand Rapids this weekend.

The fourth annual ArtPrize exhibition officially gets underway on Wednesday.

ArtPrize public relations director Brian Burch admits there is some “anxiety” as the clock ticks down.

“With an event that is the size that it is…we’re expecting 350 thousand people…we have more than 1500 artists….at 161 venues,” says Burch,  “Every year anxiety is high.”

The artists are competing for more than a half million dollars in prize money.

Photo courtesy of Jackie Ladwein

This next story is about an epic friendship between a white, 76-year-old Grand Rapids teacher, and the driven Liberian boy she inspired 50 years ago when she was a young Peace Corps volunteer.

Their bond has survived hunger, poverty, and a brutal civil war. And it’s created ripples across Liberia, leading to the country’s first school for social workers . Now, it’s reuniting both friends back here in Michigan.

Brian D. Hawkins / Creative Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is urging local governments to review their laws regarding panhandling in light of a federal ruling handed down last week.

A federal judge ruled a state law banning panhandling in public places is unconstitutional.

But ACLU staff attorney Miriam Aukerman says one of her clients in that case, James Speet, was arrested for panhandling in Kentwood anyway.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Thursday morning the public got their first chance to sit down one-on-one with Democrat-turned-Republican Roy Schmidt since he switched political parties in May. The State Representative from Grand Rapids has been dealing with the political fallout ever since.

But at the coffee visit things seemed back to normal; assuming you ignore the massive media presence, which is not normal at these kinds of informal events.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in a Grand Rapids suburb will decide in November whether the city should withdraw from the regional bus system.

This week the City of Walker certified petition signatures collected by the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance.

Ben Reisterer lives in Walker and is with the alliance.

"We’re not against busing at all. We think it’s a good thing for the community. But we don’t necessarily agree with the way they are going about providing that service," Reisterer said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

 

It’s not unusual to see a thousand people hanging around and swing dancing at Rosa Parks Circle on any given Tuesday night in the summer. The Grand Rapids Original Swing Society (GROSS) has built a reputation as a fun, safe place for people to dance the night away.

Tyler Nickerson / Decriminalize GR

A group that’s trying to make marijuana possession in the City of Grand Rapids only a civil infraction turned in more than enough signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot.

The group modeled the proposed changes to Grand Rapids’ city charter after Ann Arbor’s. In Ann Arbor, fines for marijuana possession start at just $25 and are not more $100.

Tyler Nickerson is with the group known as Decriminalize GR. It collected more than 10,000 signatures during the petition drive.

Michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to save money by privatizing nursing assistants at a state-run home for veterans is legal. The state’s Court of Appeals issued the decision Friday.

The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is one of two state-run hospitals for vets in Michigan. More than 700 are housed there.

Governor Rick Snyder privatized about 170 nursing assistants at the home last year to save around $4 million.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Transplant Games of America are traditionally put on once every two years for athletes who are organ donation recipients. Living organ donors can also compete. Hundreds, if not a thousand athletes from all over the country are expected to compete in a dozen sporting events including track, volleyball, golf, basketball, tennis and several others.

The games are held to promote organ donation and, according to the organization’s website “to show the world that transplantation is a treatment that does indeed work.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Two cities from opposite sides of the state are working together to come up with better ways to manage local governments.

Livonia and Grand Rapids are teaming up to find solutions to all kinds of common city management problems; like, what's the best practice for hiring city workers? What about for borrowing money? What’s the best accounting software for the price?

“In essence it could be anything necessary to run local government and best practices that we could easily share,” said Greg Sundstrom, Grand Rapids’ city manager.

DETROIT (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder's point man on the administration's vibrant cities initiative knows there's not a lot of spare money to invest in recreation and green space in Michigan cities.

But Rodney Stokes, the former leader of the state's Department of Natural Resources, sees a growing desire to expand urban trails, reclaim riverfronts for recreational use and offer outdoor activities. He's helped do that in Detroit, and sees potential elsewhere.

This month, he's planning meetings in Grand Rapids, and then will reach out in Lansing, Saginaw and other cities later.

courtesy photo

A Grand Rapids business owner will challenge a party-switching state representative in the Republican primary on August 7th.

Bing Goei made the announcement at the headquarters of his floral business Friday morning.

Official White House portrait

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - An annual wreath-laying ceremony has been held to remember former President Gerald Ford at a West Michigan museum bearing his name.

Relatives and friends of the Ford family attended Saturday's ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, where Ford and his wife are buried.

Gerald Ford died in 2006. The ceremony also was to include a remembrance of former first lady Betty Ford, who died last year.

The wreath-laying is held each year to mark Gerald Ford's birthday. He would have been 99 on Saturday.

Patrick Miles Jr.
Pat Miles for Congress / Wikimedia Commons

Western Michigan has a new top federal prosecutor.

Patrick Miles Jr. took the oath of office today at the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids. He's a 44-year-old Grand Rapids lawyer who was nominated by President Barack Obama and recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 

The U.S. attorney's office in western Michigan has not been led by a White House appointee for more than five years. Obama first nominated Michigan lottery chief M. Scott Bowen for U.S. attorney, but the Senate never acted and Bowen remains in state government.

The office has been in the hands of Don Davis since fall 2008. He's been a federal prosecutor in Grand Rapids for more than 35 years.

The Western District of Michigan consists of 49 counties, including all of the Upper Peninsula.

Occupy Grand Rapids is re-launching the movement after several months of lying low. The group doesn't have specific demands, “it’s not one thing, it’s everything,” the group’s facebook page says.

But several of its members say issues like income inequality, corporate influence, and housing security are important to them.

Anita Finch drove up from Kalamazoo to take part in the renewed effort. She says strong protest movements build over time; like the anti-war movement in the 1960s.

Barry Manilow
The Barry Manilow Music Project / Facebook

On June 18, the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education approved next year’s budget for their district.  MLive reports that although the 2012-2013 budget includes $9 million in cuts due to decreased enrollment, board members voted to allocate $990,000 to hire 11 more teachers to support increased arts education.

These additional teachers will facilitate full-year—as opposed to semester-long—art and music instruction for the district’s elementary school students.

In addition to the financial boost, students in Grand Rapids schools have also received attention from celebrities this month.

On June 14, students from City and Creston high schools in Grand Rapids accompanied the British-American rock band Foreigner on stage at the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Amphitheater singing their hit, “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” 

Part of the 2011 Grand Rapids LipDub.
youtube.com

Last year, Rob Bliss and his social media marketing group Status Creative organized a 5,000 participant video featuring residents of Grand Rapids “lip-dubbing” to a live version of Don McLean’s “Bye Bye, Miss American Pie.”

Not only did the YouTube video go viral with almost 5 million views, but the enormous ensemble also won the Guinness World Record for largest lip dub event.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Despite some public pressure, Grand Rapids City Commissioners declined to support a proposal that would restrict abortion coverage for city workers. A group turned in more than a thousand signatures in favor of the proposal last month.

Health insurance for Grand Rapids city workers does not cover any elective surgeries. So abortions are only covered when deemed “medically necessary”. The proposal would’ve defined that to mean only in cases of rape, incest and to protect the health of the mother.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week Grand Rapids officials will debate whether food trucks should be allowed in the city. People will get a chance to weigh in on the proposed rules Tuesday night. The rules would allow food trucks but limit when and where they could operate.

Right now food trucks have to part of a special event, like ArtPrize for example. But some have found a way to operate in a sort of legal grey area under the same rules that mobile ice cream trucks operate.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Democrats in Kent County are asking for an investigation after a state representative switched political parties this week.

Longtime Democrat Roy Schmidt from Grand Rapids switched parties to run as a Republican Tuesday.

22-year old Matt Mojzak filed to run in the district which includes Grand Rapids. The Secretary of State’s office says Mojzak changed his address from one in neighboring Ottawa County to one within the district just this week. But the affidavit says Mojzak had lived at the Kent County address for 22 years.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Today some people in the Cities of Granville and Walker will begin collecting signatures to get their cities out of the partnership that runs the bus system in metro Grand Rapids. It’s called The Rapid.

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance says it's not against bus transportation in general, but feels the system is wasting tax dollars. The grassroots organization with volunteer staff tries to keeps tabs on taxpayer dollars in local government.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Volunteers in Kent County are making a last minute push to get out the vote Tuesday. They’ll be knocking on doors and making phone calls running up to Tuesday’s election.

Voters will decide on a county-wide millage increase to renovate outdated buildings at Grand Rapids Community College.

The millage would pay for basic improvements to almost every building on campus.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A community organizer in Grand Rapids is trying to improve neighborhoods to keep young people from moving out of the state.

“Neighborhoods are sellable. Young people have a hard time right now staying in Michigan because they feel that there’s not the same cultural aspects or the opportunities for growth like in bigger cities,” Johannah Jelks said.

24-year-old Jelks started the grassroots group “Generation X & Y for MI” a few years ago as her peers were moving out of Michigan. “But actually if you look on a micro-scale neighborhoods have been attracting young talent at a rapid rate,” Jelks said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A Grand Rapids entrepreneur is launching a $15 million venture capital fund to turn people’s ideas into successful businesses.

The DeVos family is backing the fund, called Start Garden. Richard DeVos started Amway, now the world’s largest direct selling company.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The head of Michigan’s largest contemporary arts center has stepped down as part of a plan to stabilize the museum’s finances. The Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids is also cutting its hours.

The UICA’s board of directors voted on the restructuring plan this week to try to stabilize what they call a “declining financial situation”. But the board will not discuss details of the budget or the restructuring plan publicly.

Board President Kathryn Chaplow says the board has reached out to a small group of “major donors” to help with some immediate funding.

“It’s very rare for people to go through something like this. But with the way people step up its just overwhelming and its humbling. The UICA isn’t going anywhere,” Chaplow said.

The UICA’s executive director Jeff Meeuwsen has agreed to step down as part of the plan. He will stay on as a temporary consultant for up to 90 days. 

Chaplow says she hopes the cut in hours will be temporary. And she says the board will be seeking a new director.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A former General Motors plant in a Grand Rapids suburb is getting new life and a new identity.

The 2 million square foot stamping plant in Wyoming, Michigan was the first manufacturing plant sold after GM’s bailout. The more than 75 year old plant is almost completely demolished now. The plant was once the city of Wyoming’s largest taxpayer and employer.

Now it’s been rebranded as “Site 36”. (It’s located on 36th street in Wyoming.)

“We cannot go to a customer, a company, a site consultant and say ‘well we’ve got a former General Motors site.’ Okay? That brings with it a certain image,” said Birgit Klohs, President and CEO of The Right Place. It’s an economic development group based in Grand Rapids that’s helping market the site to international companies.  

Klohs says rebranding the site is important for the people who live here too. “We’re done grieving. We need to come up with the next strategy and rebranding to us was a key issue for us in saying it’s time for the 21st century,” Klohs said.

Joe Ross / Creative Commons

Former Michigan Governor John Engler says politicians in Washington need to make important decisions now, despite the general election coming in November.

Engler is now President of Business Roundtable, a national association of CEOs.

He says politicians have a lot of tough decisions to make to keep the U.S. competitive globally. That includes decisions on energy and education; but most importantly, he says, decisions about the tax code and the federal deficit. Engler says those decisions need to made as quickly as possible.

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