Gentrification fears stoked by developer's $60M Grand Rapids proposal
March 16, 2016
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A plan to remake an industrial area along Madison Avenue SE and add new housing along a stretch of Eastern Avenue SE has riled up a community development organization and spawned fears of gentrification.
Rockford Construction is exploring large-scale redevelopment that possibly could involve as many as 75 properties and investment upwards of $60 million, according to an internal planning documentapparently leaked to LINC Community Revitalization, which sought public input on the plan Tuesday, March 12.
LINC leaders say what Rockford's "proposing to do needs to be done," but they're upset that they've not been in the loop on development of the plans.
"The worst-case scenario is the neighborhood changes to the exclusion of existing residents," said Jeremy DeRoo, co-executive director of LINC.
Said fellow co-director Darel Ross: "If you're going to develop somebody's neighborhood, the neighborhood should be advised of it."
LINC hosted a dinner Tuesday and asked residents to send developers and Grand Rapids leaders messages via sticky notes on a wall. Among the statements:
• Create opportunities for black businesses
• Consult directly with the individuals whose area they are changing and meet the needed demands, according to their demography
• Only good can come from listening to the people
• People from the community to not only have a voice, but be employed
• Can we please bring in some business owners of color, and hire people who actually live in the community?
• Promise to keep this neighborhood diverse!
Rockford should commit to providing jobs for neighborhood residents and fostering business ownership among residents, DeRoo said. The organization also posted to Facebook a message from the Greater Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network that "we don't want a carbon copy of other 'developed' neighborhoods, like the Wealthy Street corridor, which in terms of business ownership, patronage, and culture have become almost exclusively white."
"We understand the excitement and the concern, but we're going to do it the right way," said George Colvin, a project superintendent for Rockford who attended Tuesday's City Commission meeting in anticipation that people would speak to city leaders about the project. None did publicly.
"It's simply a proposal. It's simply a group of investors looking at this area saying 'maybe, possibly.' What you've seen is a proposal, not a plan. We're just shaking the bush to see if people are interested."
Colvin declined to talk specifics on Rockford's plan, which according to the June 2015 document being circulated by LINC calls for a "more varied mix of rental housing" with 100 new units – half designated for low-income residents – and 25 retail jobs along Eastern between Wealthy and Franklin Street, and 800 new jobs, including 300 for neighboring residents, along Madison between Hall and Burton streets.
"There will be little benefit to the neighborhood if the created manufacturing jobs go to non-residents," the document states. "This will require some alignment of manufacturing businesses with the skill set of the residents during the development process, as well as partnerships with local job training programs."
The City Commission recently signed a memoranda of understanding with Grand Valley State University regarding the school's plans to redevelop a section of the Belknap Lookout neighborhood north of I-196 across from the Medical Mile. Those documents arose out of neighborhood talks and include provisions for hiring local residents, for example.
Grand Rapids leaders have voiced a desire to use a similar process for developments elsewhere in the city.
"The engagement process (with the neighborhoods) hasn't started yet (on the Rockford project)," Third Ward City Commissioner David Allen said. "We've not been presented anything. We don't have any details."