Grand Rapids

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.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 A federal judge’s ruling is opening the doors of Michigan’s homeless shelters to registered sex offenders.  

 Two years ago, a 51 year old homeless man was found frozen to death in Grand Rapids.  He was turned away by a   local homeless shelter because the man was a registered sex offender.   The shelter was less than a thousand feet from a school, which would have been a violation of a Michigan law barring sex offenders from living that close to a school.   

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

The Amway HotelVan Andel Arena. The Grand Rapids Public Museum. What do all these things have in common? Yes, they're all credited with helping turn downtown Grand Rapids around. But they also owe their existence, at least in part, to something else: philanthropy.

The sons of the late Fred Meijer say the Walker-Michigan-based Meijer retail chain will remain “family-owned, family-run” in a video released Thursday.

“Because of our dad, Meijer will always be more than just a company,” Hank and Doug Meijer say in the video, “He was building something else all those years. He was building a family. One that is now 60,000 strong.” Meijer Corporation has about around 200 stores in the Midwest.

Image by John Wilson / Michigan Radio

As part of Michigan Radio's end-of-year look back at some of the more notable stories, here's a collection of 2011 arts and culture stories that we feel deserve another look:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A report released today by the Anderson Economic Group say this year’s ArtPrize added $15.4 million to the Grand Rapids economy. That estimate is twice the economic impact measured in each of the first two years. 2011 was the third annual ArtPrize.

Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

A newspaper reports a tiger cub exhibit has closed at a Grand Rapids mall after public complaints and a planned protest. The Grand Rapids Press reported Friday that mall officials canceled the touring display that allows shoppers to play with and be photographed with the cubs for a price.

Sarah Hale tells the newspaper she had planned a protest for Saturday against the exhibit but called it off.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids economy grew faster than predicted this year and economic forecasters say growth will continue into 2012.

George Erickcek is an economist at the Upjohn Institute for employment research. He says the Grand Rapids economy did grow in 2011, but only by two-percent. (His full presentation is linked here.)

“There’s been no talk of a double dip for many, many months. But the growth…is disappointing. It’s not the growth we want,” Erickcek told a group of business leaders assembled Wednesday.

He says a recovering auto industry and gains in advanced manufacturing are the main reasons Grand Rapids’ economy has grown.

In fact, Erickcek says Grand Rapids is technically over the recession in terms of employment numbers.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

City planners in Grand Rapids are debating whether food trucks should be allowed in the city. Food trucks are becoming more popular thanks in part to TV shows like “The Great Food Truck Race”.

Steven Depolo / Flickr

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - The annual ArtPrize contest in Grand Rapids is getting a new $100,000 juried award and trimming how much money the top two publicly picked winners each get.

Organizers on Tuesday announced the creation of the ArtPrize Juried Grand Prize for the 2012 event, which is scheduled for Sept. 19 to Oct. 7. The new award makes the total prize money for the 2012 event $550,000, up from nearly $500,000 in 2011.

Next year, the artist winning the public voting will get $200,000 instead of the $250,000 that was awarded in 2011. The prize for second place will be $75,000, down from $100,000. Prizes for other juried awards will be $20,000.

Artist and venue registration for the fourth annual ArtPrize event will be announced later.

Meijer

Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi says they’re expecting at least 10,000 people to travel to Grand Rapids Tuesday for the public visitation.

“The Meijer family wanted to give the community an opportunity to pay their respects to Fred because he meant so much to so many people, not just in Grand Rapids but really in the state of Michigan,” Guglielmi said.

People have already flooded an online guest book with ‘thanks yous’ to Fred. They’ve shared memories of working with him; even simple stories like getting one of his signed Purple Cow cards (and Sandy the pony - rides still cost just a penny). The cards were good for one free ice cream cone at a Meijer deli. Meijer used to hand the cards out to people he met in his stores.

Davenportweb / Creative Commons / Davenport University

Amway Chairman Steve Van Andel issued a brief statement Saturday night:

"I am saddened by the loss of my loving wife Cindy Van Andel. She passed away Friday evening after a brief illness. Cindy has been my friend, confidant and partner for almost 33 years of marriage. She was a warm and caring person who could light up an entire room just by her smile. Her heart went out to all she met and she will be greatly missed."

courtesy of Barry Van Dyke

Jack’s Liquor Store was never a beautiful building, even before it closed down and stood empty for more than 10 years. It was a dingy, generic convenience store on a corner. In May 2010, 33-year-old Grand Rapids resident Barry Van Dyke and two siblings bought it anyway.

The store sits on the border of the Uptown and Eastown neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Eastown has been known as a diverse, vibrant business district and the Van Dyke’s wanted to capitalize on the energy and traffic. They plan to open a brewery in the space soon, Harmony Brewery. But converting the formerly empty building has not been easy.

The Van Dykes came into the project with redevelopment experience. Together, with their father, they own a local property management company called Bear Manor. They’ve bought, fixed up, and rented or sold 13 residential and three commercial properties in Grand Rapids, mostly in the Uptown neighborhood.

These 16 buildings are just a dent in the at least 1,078 buildings the city of Grand Rapids has documented as abandoned. Barry Van Dyke isn’t surprised there are so many. He says the thing most people don’t realize about renovating empty places is how long it takes.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation approved tax breaks Tuesday in exchange for new investment and jobs.

MEDC spokesman Joseph Serwach says one of the four projects receiving tax breaks includes a much-needed grocery store in the City of Detroit.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

At least 35 West Michigan companies are looking to fill manufacturing jobs. The companies were scouting out new workers at a manufacturing job fair in Grand Rapids Monday.

This is the first time Grand Rapids Community College has held a job fair specifically for manufacturers. Michael Kiss has been with the college for 25 years. He’s heads the school’s Department of Manufacturing and Applied Technology. "There's 35 companies here, but probably another 100 that are looking to hire," Kiss said.

He says they decided to host the fair because he’s been flooded with calls from companies this year that are trying to fill jobs in the manufacturing field.

Isn't manufacturing dead?

It’s not dead yet; not at all,” 40-year old Grand Rapids resident Eric Mallett says about manufacturing.

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