Grand Rapids

GRAND HAVEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Police reports say Grand Valley State University officers continued firearms training at a West Michigan gun range after a first report that stray bullets may have struck a home about a half-mile away.

The Grand Rapids Press reports Friday that the documents it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the officers were midway through a training session Sept. 29 when a man drove up saying his house had been hit by two bullets.

The police reports say officers at the North Ottawa Rod and Gun Club's rifle range in Grand Haven Township relocated training to an adjacent pistol range.

Later police would learn a contractor working in a nearby development was wounded in the arm.

Allendale-based Grand Valley State University says it's launched an internal investigation.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan home sale prices increased by more than 6 percent in the last three months. But home prices are not rising everywhere.  

Alex Villacorta is with Clear Capital. He said Michigan’s average home sale prices are still 65 percent below their peak of a few years ago, before the recession.  But Villacorta said prices are finally moving in the right direction. 

Tim Beckett / Flickr

This week, Changing Gears kicks off a look at Empty across our region. During November, we’ll be looking at empty buildings, empty property — and how we can fill things up again.

In the first part of our series, I explore the economic and social cost of emptiness.

Things may be better in some neighborhoods, but problems still abound.

The numbers

Grand Rapids Public Schools has closed Southwest Community Campus school today because of a police stand-off underway in the neighborhood near the school.

Police are looking for a man who they consider a "person of interest" in connection with the fatal shooting of a woman.

That incident happened around six o’clock this morning. Police have blocked off some streets near the school.

The shooting is not related to the school at all, but administrators are closing the school because the neighborhood may not be safe for students to travel through it, according to John Helmholdt, spokesman for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

michigan.gov

Michigan’s Attorney General is appealing a ruling that prevents the privatization of nursing assistants as a state-run home for veterans.

The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is one of two state-run hospitals (the other, much smaller one, is in Marquette) for veterans in Michigan. More than 700 veterans are housed there.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

City Commissioners voted today in favor of controversial changes to the housing code.

“In light of the foreclosure crisis and the 70-percent increase in the number of single family rentals in the city, we recognize that we’ve got to do something to protect our housing,” Grand Rapids City Commissioner Ruth Kelly said prior to the vote, “It’s our family infrastructure; it’s what we live in.”

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A judge has barred the state of Michigan from giving more work to a private contractor at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

The injunction also prevents the layoff of state employees who are health-care aides. Gov. Rick Snyder wants to privatize certain services to save money, but critics say the plan could harm residents.

Ingham County Judge Paula Manderfield signed the order Friday, saying the injunction is in the "public interest." WOOD-TV reports the attorney general's office plans to appeal.

The home has 758 beds for veterans and many of its workers are represented by a union. A doctor last week testified that an abrupt change in personnel would affect the physical and mental health of residents.

John Eisenschenk / Creative Commons

The Arts Council was founded in 1967 to help support arts organizations in West Michigan.

“We’re recognizing the changes,” Exectutive Director Caroline Older said about financial problems facing arts organizations, “We’re making a positive change for the Arts Council, even if it does mean that it comes to a close.”

Older says the recession compounded with state cuts to arts programs forced the non-profit to consider all of its options. She says the council realized it couldn’t be sustainable anymore.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The “Occupy Wall Street” campaign is starting to pop up in towns and cities across Michigan.  

Last night the campaign came to Ann Arbor.  

A crowd of about a hundred gathered on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor to talk and listen. Many in the crowd have been inspired by the anti-corporate protest that’s been taking place on Wall Street for the past several weeks.  Others were just curious.  

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

From an ArtPrize press release:

The top prize of $250,000 went to Mia Tavonatti from Santa Ana, California (originally from Iron Mountain, Michigan) for her large-scale mosaic, Crucifixion. More than 382,000 votes were cast in ArtPrize 2011 and an estimated 500,000 visitors experienced the third annual competition.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says the $450 billion jobs bill is “crucial” for Michigan. His comments are part of a campaign to get Congress to act on the American Jobs Act.

 “We know we have to be strong and stand on our own but we also know that we’re not able to keep up with infrastructure needs in our community,” Heartwell said during a White House press conference Friday.

Obama has been urging Congress to pass the jobs bill “right away” since he sent the bill to Congress two week ago. But so far, Congress hasn’t taken any real action on it.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The proposed changes would require landlords to register rental properties every year, instead of every four years. They would also require inspections of single family rental units. Right now only rental properties with two or more units get inspected.

This week hundreds of people turned out to speak at a public hearing. Mayor George Heartwell guessed the commission has received as many comments on this as they did on a proposed ordinance to allow residents to keep backyard chickens a little more than a year ago.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Discussions about a proposal to merge the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County into a single unit of government will move forward despite numerous concerns about the final outcome.

Earlier this year a group of business leaders launched the “One Kent Coalition”. They didn’t really inform the city or the county of their plan ahead of time so initially there was a backlash against it. Many government leaders, like Grand Rapids City Commissioner Dave Shaffer, remain cautious.

In 2010, Grand Rapids was named the most sustainable mid-sized city in the U. S., by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic leadership Center and Siemens Corp. When he took office in 2004, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell implemented what he calls a “triple bottom-line sustainability planning process. ” He talks with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White about what it takes to create a long term sustainable future for the city.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The public transportation system in greater Grand Rapids is celebrating a record number of riders this year. The Rapid is operated by an authority made up of Grand Rapids and 5 surrounding suburbs; Wyoming, Walker, Grandville, East Grand Rapids, and Kentwood.  

Barbara Deming waits for a bus at The Rapid Central Station which is packed every morning and afternoon on the weekdays. Deming has ridden the bus nearly every week since moving back home to Grand Rapids from a small town up north 7 years ago.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Dozens of rental property owners and housing advocates are expected at a meeting in Grand Rapids this week. The rise of foreclosures could prompt the city to change parts of its housing code.

The city inspects rental properties with two or more units. They check for fire alarms, peeling or chipping lead paint, and other safety hazards. But single family homes for rent are exempt from inspections.

More than 2,400 people have already started checking out ArtPrize. The art contest began in Grand Rapids Wednesday afternoon. 1,582 artists are competing to win a $250,000 top prize.

Even before ArtPrize opened, thousands of people had already preregistered to vote in the contest. Those who vote determine the winner.

Steven Depolo / Flickr

The third annual ArtPrize will kick off tomorrow in Grand Rapids. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith will have an update for us later today.

From the Associated Press:

ArtPrize begins Wednesday and runs through Oct. 9. Organizers say this year's show will host artists from 39 countries and 43 states displaying their work in 164 venues within three square miles of the city's downtown.

While the winners of most art competitions are decided by a few professionals, ArtPrize allows any adult to enter and any attendee to vote for the winners.

Founder Rick DeVos says the event is more about the process than the finished product - giving artists permission to embrace creativity and succeed or fail.

Annie Green Springs / Flickr

The Michigan ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court today asking a judge to nullify a state law that prohibits panhandling in public places.

The lawsuit names Michigan state attorney general Bill Schuette, the Grand Rapids Chief of Police Kevin Belk, and Grand Rapids police officer Gregory Bauer as defendants.

The state law in question defines a "disorderly person" in part as a person who is "found begging in a public place."

ACLU of Michigan representatives say between January 1, 2008 and May 24, 2011, the Grand Rapids Police Department "produced 399 incident reports of individuals prosecuted under the unconstitutional state statute" - prosecutions that ACLU representatives say say led to 1,641 days in jail and $60,000 in expenses to taxpayers.

More from the ACLU of Michigan's press release:

“Anti-begging laws that punish that most vulnerable segment of our society are not only harsh, they are unconstitutional,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "Removing the reminders of poverty from our sight is not the answer to Michigan’s economic woes. We need laws and practices that provide compassionate solutions for our growing homeless population.”

ACLU lawyers filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Grand Rapids residents, James Speet and Ernest Sims.

The lawsuit indicates the two have been "repeatedly arrested or ticketed by police for violating the state’s blanket ban on begging in public."

“I see people holding up signs throughout the city advertising restaurants or protesting and they don’t get arrested or ticketed,” said Speet. “I don’t understand why my sign is any different just because I’m homeless and looking for a job.”

Photo courtesy of the Gerald R Ford International Airport

Airplanes across the country use de-icing fluid, and airports have to figure out how to deal with the run-off from the fluid.

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has come up with a $15 million plan to deal with the run-off which contains a substance called glycol. The Grand Rapids airport currently mixes glycol with storm water and dumps it into a tributary, where it breaks down and creates a bacterial slime.

New chambers of commerce are starting to form in cities across Michigan to support African-American business leaders. The Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce is working to charter local black chambers in several cities. The group wants to empower African-American business leaders to overcome unique challenges, like historically bad access to capital.

Leaders of the newly-formed Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce are hoping to empower African-American business owners.

DETROIT (AP) - Former NBA star Magic Johnson is asking a Michigan judge for "mercy" and no prison for former college teammate Jay Vincent.

Vincent will be sentenced Friday for fraud. He and Johnson grew up in Lansing and were stars on the 1979 Michigan State national championship team.

In a letter to a federal judge in Grand Rapids, Johnson says Vincent is a "really good guy" with a "tremendous heart." Johnson believes Vincent got involved with the wrong people and "made some really bad decisions."

Like Johnson, the 52-year-old Vincent also played in the NBA. He pleaded guilty in a fraud case involving thousands of people who paid to become certified home inspectors. Prosecutors are recommending nine years in prison. Vincent has been in jail since late July for a bond violation.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new program launching this fall in Grand Rapids will try to help high school dropouts earn both their high school diplomas and some college credit.  The program is a joint effort of Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Community College. 

College president Steven Ender says they’re reaching out to 16 to 19 year olds who otherwise would have a hard time finding a future in Michigan’s economy.  

This weekend “30 Minutes or Less” comes out in theaters. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about it in Grand Rapids this week; a few are hosting movie parties. The pizza place where the main character works in the film, is giving people $5 off their order if they present a movie stub. I admit, I spent some time at work today playing the little internet pizza delivery game on the movie's page.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Two economic development groups, one from Grand Rapids and another in Muskegon are asking the state of Michigan to approve a regional economic development corporation. It could provide marketing and tax incentives for a narrow purpose; to attract businesses that need property with two or more modes of transportation.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The number of foreclosure filings dropped significantly in cities across Michigan during the first six months of the year.   Daren Bloomquist, with Realty Trac, says this not necessarily good news.  

 “We’ve probably seen the peak of foreclosure activity in this cycle.  But it may take a while to really to clear the decks and get all the foreclosures that have built up over the last few years sold on to the market.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio reporter Lindsey Smith watched and listened outside of Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids today when the military honor guard removed Ford's body from the hearse.

Here's her video of the event:

Ann Arbor Public Library

Making money as an artist can be tough, but Jerry Berta made a good living selling his clay pieces for decades.

He and his wife Madeline Kaczmarczyk, also an artist, weathered the Midwestern recession of the early 1980’s and even built a house in Rockford, Michigan where they still live. Berta said they felt like rich people. They made enough money to buy and sell a couple of restaurants along the way.

“It was so easy when we started out. We started out on a street in Ann Arbor,” Berta said. “We set up, we sold stuff, and we were in business! Now, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Even successful artists, they’re having a hard time making it.”

They later sent two kids to ivy-league colleges. But when the 2008 recession hit things changed.

“It had been happening slowly. You could just feel it,” Berta said. “People were being really tight with their money, and art, you don’t really need art. It’s changed, and I have adapted.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Betty Ford will be laid to rest Thursday afternoon in Grand Rapids. Wednesday evening, thousands paid their respects during visitation at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.

The sidewalk outside the Ford Museum was packed with people when the motorcade rolled by, carrying Betty Ford on her final trip home.

Edna Jungers and her friend Yvonne Locker traveled from Milwaukee to see the former first lady in repose.

Jungers says her son lived near the Fords when they had a condo in Vail, Colorado.

Felix de Cossio / White House

Betty Ford and her husband, the late President Gerald Ford, spent much of the past thirty years in Rancho Mirage, California. About a thousand people will attend an invitation-only funeral service today in nearby Palm Desert.

Wednesday, Mrs. Ford’s body will be flown to Michigan. A public viewing will take place tomorrow evening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. 

A private funeral at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids is planned for Thursday. Afterward, she will be buried next to her husband on the grounds of the presidential museum.  

Betty Ford died last week.  She was 93.

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