Grand Rapids

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids has released plans to merge and close some of its churches. The diocese includes 99 churches in 11 West Michigan counties.

“Every Parish is in one way or the other affected," said Bishop Walter Hurley. He approved the restructuring plan that's been three years in the making. It’s supposed to help the diocese face future challenges, like changing populations, a growing Hispanic community, and fewer clergy.

“Right now we’re not at a crisis point but what we do need to know as we look to the future, now what happens if we don’t have a pastor assigned to this Parrish or this Parrish," Hurley said. 

Hurley says a few churches in more rural areas up north have already closed. Another handful will close as priests retire. Others will merge together. Hurley says the plan is a living document and subject to change. The Diocese of Grand Rapids isn’t the only one grappling with fewer priests.

There's no set timeline for when many changes will take place, but they're expected over several years.

You can find the full approved "Our Faith, Our Future" plan here. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Steelcase doesn’t manufacture much office furniture in West Michigan anymore, but it still has about 3,000 employees here. They gathered for the birthday celebration at the Grand Rapids headquarters for cake and a balloon drop.

miss.libertine / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids voters could decide if people caught with marijuana should only be charged with a civil infraction, instead of a criminal charge. A group of residents begins collecting signatures Friday to put the measure on the November ballot in the city.

The group modeled the proposed changes to Grand Rapids’ city charter after Ann Arbor’s. In that city, people caught with marijuana pay just a $25 fine for the first offense, but get no higher than $100.

The proposed charter change reads in part;

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People supporting a new tax millage for Grand Rapids Community College kicked off their campaign Wednesday. The millage would raise almost $100 million over 20 years pay to renovate almost every building on campus; including the main building constructed 90 years ago.

Students, employers, Democrats and even some Republicans gathered at the school’s Music Center Wednesday morning.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The interim superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools will get rid of some controversial initiatives put in place by the former district leader. The state’s third largest school district has been through a lot of turmoil over the last year.

Former Grand Rapids schools superintendent Bernard Taylor made academic improvements during his five years serving the district. But he was divisive at least and a pariah to some. He resigned abruptly in January. His replacement Teresa Weatherall Neal has worked for Grand Rapids schools for 35 years.

“I am truly, truly, one of you. This is my district and this is my city,” Neal said in her ‘state of our schools address’ Saturday.  

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

There’s some good news for people planning on selling their homes in Michigan.

During the last four years, home sale prices in Michigan have been on a rollercoaster, mainly going down.

But Clear Capitol reports today Michigan home prices may finally be stabilizing.

Alex Villacorta is with Clear Capitol. He says an improving job picture,  stronger consumer confidence and more investors buying cheap homes are all contributing to a more stable real estate market.

Villacorta says nationally prices in February were only down about a half percentage point from the previous year.

"Bringing it back to Michigan," says Villacorta, "that fact that prices are actually up 1.2% over the last year is definitely a good sign…and up double digits…about 15% from the low point of 2009.”

But as with all things real estate, 'Location…location…location' is what matters.Villacorta says Grand Rapids’ home sale prices are up about six percent compared with a year ago, while home prices in Lansing and Flint continue to decline.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Recycling is up 80-percent since the City of Grand Rapids instituted a new single-stream recycling program. With single-stream people can put all kinds of stuff - glass, plastic, cardboard and paper - into a single cart (no sorting needed). The city picks up the recyclable stuff at the curb for free.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids-area hotels made record income last year. Hotel revenue in Kent County grew at a faster rate than the average for hotels in Michigan and the United States. That’s according a report released by the convention and visitors bureau – Experience Grand Rapids.

Experience Grand Rapids president Doug Small says the city attracted larger conventions and more leisure travelers this year. “It’s a combination of very creative marketing, collaboration, wonderful events that continue to dot our landscape,” Small said, noting ArtPrize and Laughfest as examples. “It’s all good; it’s the perfect storm.”

Small says the ‘Pure Michigan’ marketing campaign deserves some credit too. “We’re a big partner with them – we’ve always been since day one. They’ve helped drive a lot of our summer business,” Small said.

Kent County’s 70 hotels made a combined $114 million dollars last year, a 10-percent increase from the year before. In 2009 it was just $93 million. The hospitality industry employs 24,000 people in Kent County.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he's recommending $14.7 million in federal aid to build a 9.6-mile bus rapid transit line in Grand Rapids.

LaHood said in a statement Tuesday that the line will offer fast and efficient access to the western Michigan city's central business district and relieve congestion.

LaHood says the project is part of President Barack Obama's budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The budget sent to Congress on Monday includes $2.2 billion in funding for 29 major rail and bus
rapid transit projects in 15 states.

LaHood says the budget would fund the Grand Rapids Interurban Transit partnership for a new Silver Line BRT system. It would run along Division Avenue from the Grand Rapids central business
district to 60th Street at Division Avenue.

user JohnE777 / Flickr

Michigan State University’s Human Medicine program is expanding its research facilities far away from East Lansing.

Last month, MSU announced its buying the old Grand Rapids Press building.  This week, developers say they hope to turn an old newspaper building in Flint into a home for MSU medical researchers.

Aron Sousa is an associate dean at the MSU College of Human Medicine.  He says expansions in Grand Rapids and Flint, as well as Midland and Traverse City, reflect the communities’ needs.

“Both the college [of Human Medicine] and the university want to be more active across the state.  We’re the land grant school for the state of Michigan.  We take that mission and that history seriously," says Sousa. 

 MSU is ending some medical programs in Kalamazoo and Saginaw, to make way for new medical schools at Western and Central Michigan Universities.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell dedicated his entire state of the city speech Saturday morning to highlighting the problems facing kids in the community. 

Heartwell noted nearly 2 in 5 children in Michigan's 2nd largest city live in poverty. More than 1 in 5 students in Grand Rapids Public Schools drops out of high school. Many don’t have regular access to the internet.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in Kent County will decide on a millage increase for Grand Rapids Community College this May. The college’s board of trustees voted to put the question on the May ballot Monday night.

GRCC’s President Steven Enders says the tax increase is worth it for everyone living near Grand Rapids. “You cannot begin to put a value of the impact of this institution on Kent County and this region. It is just not as simple as counting numbers," Enders said. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The school board of Michigan’s third largest public school district voted unanimously Monday night to extend interim Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal’s contract for 18 months and suspend the superintendent search.

Neal replaces former superintendent Bernard Taylor. Taylor had agreed to resign from Grand Rapids schools at the end of this school year after he was a finalist for other jobs beginning last spring. But he departed abruptly earlier this month.

In a written statement school board president Senita Lenear said:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids area economy will continue to grow at a modest pace in 2012. Economists at Grand Valley State University are predicting employment growth between 1.5 and 2-percent this year.

GVSU Professor of Economics Hari Singh surveyed close to 300 business owners in Allegan, Ottawa, Kent and Muskegon counties to compile his report. He says 70-percent of employers told him they plan to hire permanent employees this year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Rapid busses start a new schedule Monday that will better serve riders late at night, on the weekends, and more frequently during the workday. The bus service is improving thanks to a millage voters passed back in May.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Kent County is saving tens of thousands of dollars a year on supplies thanks to a customized online auction. The program is like the online auction site eBay in reverse.

When Kent County needs office supplies, like printer paper, it opens an auction online. It lists a maximum price it’s willing to pay based on previous bills. Vendors offer to sell the county printer paper at that price or lower.

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