Grand Rapids

(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.

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.

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