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BostonianinGR

New to this Forum: Moving to GR

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Hi Folks,

After having lived in Boston for most of this past decade, I will be moving to Grand Rapids this fall. I must admit that I will definitely miss Boston. It has great public transportation, it is pedestrian friendly, and very urban. But, I am delighted to have found this forum. I have been observing the discussions in this forum for several weeks as a guest and have finally decided to join it.

It is a pleasure to see others interested in downtonwn GR, urban renewal, increasing public transporation and foot traffic downtown. Its also nice to know that I won't be the only one interested in downtown life.

Anyway, here are a few thoughts on downtown GR:

1.) It seems to me that to get things going we need a few good "anchor stores". By this I mean a couple of stores that a lot of people would want to shop at. Take downtown Boston as a good example. Most of the foot traffic consists of middle income shoppers. You have high end retail in Boston but those people show up in fancy cars and get dropped off at the store front. Most of the pedestrians downtown are a lot of middle to low end shoppers shopping at places like Filenes Basement, TJ Max, Marshalls. Now if GR had a few more large stores, people may have reason to shop there. Few people will go all the way downtown to buy a pair of high end shoes. But, if they can get a bargain, along with enjoying a day at an outdoor mall, and getting some exercise, they might. A Barnes and Nobles with a cafe may also be very suitable. Or perhaps a large Music store (a Virgin or Tower records).

Now, I know most of you may not like large chain retailers. But practically speaking, they are the only ones who have the money to take such risks; if only they can be pursuaded to take such risks.

2.) The river front really needs to be developed. I don't know much about it now, but I don't recall a single restaurant with a deck on the waterfront. I simply don't know why no ones ever thought of it.

Any way these are my two pennies worth of ideas. In a few months if you see a guy with a Red Sox shirt/hat, walking around downtown GR, its probably going to be me!

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It's great to have you join us. I couldn't agree more about the riverfront. Ours should be more like San Antonios. The only riverfront restaurant with a deck right now is Charley's Crab on Market Street. I think that as the perception of the Grand River improves with the slow but methodical overhaul of the waste treatment system, that may change in the future. But riverfront property is hard to come by. I think the "Little Bite" Deli in Bridgewater should have done a riverfront patio to watch the anglers in the Grand. And why Benthams on the river side of the Grand Plaza Hotel does not have outdoor seating is beyond me.

I think the ONLY way to bring retail downtown is to continue to build the density of housing downtown. When there are 3000 - 4000 people living in the CBD, then retailers will take notice. Suburbanites are just not going to drive downtown to shop, unless there is already a critical mass of people there and stores that are not available in the burbs. Read the hilarious letters to the editor from "Berta" in Grandville who just won't go downtown because there is no place to park. LOL.

Rambling :P Welcome to GR!

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Oh, and if you really want that Cambridge, Mass. feel, go to Riverside Park on Monroe North of Ann Street. The row teams in their "skulls" on the river, and the frisbee golfers, give it a very cool feel in the summer.

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Just some basic comments about your post to give you an idea of what GR is like consider it a tour guide for the newly arrived, but much less professional :P

1) We do have stores such as TJ Max, and Marshalls infact both are on Alpine Ave. just north of Downtown (same street as the lost restaurant "The Clock" thats been on the forums for a few days) As for B&N, we have a similar bookstore called Schuller's Bookstore that is just as large, and is local. We also have B&Ns, but if you ask anyone here, Schuller's is generally considered the better store.

Our biggest problem is that even people living downtown head outside of downtown. Most people downtown head for Alpine, and 28th Street as well as those in surrounding neighborhoods (Walker, Comstock Park, Kentwood, Wyoming, Cascade, Ada, East GR, etc.)

To get retailers downtown, I think the locals are much more willing to risk the chance of going Downtown as opposed to the larger chain stores. As for record stores, to be honest, I don;t know much about that, I would have to defer to someone who would know (I'm not a big music fan)

2) GR dad answered this for me.

As for a guy in a Red Sox shirt walking around downtown, well your going to see a lotta Olde English D's and Embroidered C's down here :P But don't worry we generally arent hostile :P

As for baseball, unfortunately we dont have a Red Sox Affiliate that comes to town, but we do have a good place to go watch in 5/3rd Park (formerly Old Kent Park) off West River Drive. But dont be too surprised to see a AAA team here in the future if your here for a decade :P

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I have a feeling that if the current crop of condos and apartments goes through, we might start to see some retail headed downtown. It will all be based on population and density.

I would personally like to see GVSU add more downtown housing as I think a college crowd would be a great catalyst to downtown retail of all types. The Northern area of downtown also needs to be carefully crafted as more of a residential district (as it is being) and we could see it there also. However, other than that, downtown residential is too spread out. The major centers will be GVSU, River House/Union Square, North Downtown, and Plaza/Heartside. All of them are a decent walk from eachother - not too bad, but just long enough to discourage walking to say a grocery store and lugging back a bag full of food.

I see the River House, Union Square, and American Seating residential developments as a possible area that could really benefit from retail of all sorts. There are open spaces, abandoned buildings, and frankly, neighborhoods that just need to go. This would be a great location for a larger urban big box development or power center. I think that something like that on the edge of downtown would do great - even considering the proximity of Alpine.

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I see the River House, Union Square, and American Seating residential developments as a possible area that could really benefit from retail of all sorts.  There are open spaces, abandoned buildings, and frankly, neighborhoods that just need to go.  This would be a great location for a larger urban big box development or power center.  I think that something like that on the edge of downtown would do great - even considering the proximity of Alpine.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That would definately be a great area to develop. Im not trying to be rude, but the area surrounding Union Square is a lot like what Midtown Village was. There is definately an opportunity to put a big box retail center nearby that building. Even something like a Meijer, or similar retail center. (I highly doubt Walmart would ever move downtown, and the opposition to such a place would be strong)

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That would definately be a great area to develop. Im not trying to be rude, but the area surrounding Union Square is a lot like what Midtown Village was. There is definately an opportunity to put a big box retail center nearby that building. Even something like a Meijer, or similar retail center. (I highly doubt Walmart would ever move downtown, and the opposition to such a place would be strong)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Big Box can work in an urban setting. Look at the Clybourn Corridor/Lincoln Park area in Chi-town. It takes very careful planning though, and gridlock on Clybourn in the evening and on Saturdays is horrendous (gridlock downtown, what a concept :P )

clybourn_galleria.jpg

dominicks.JPG

homedepot.JPG

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I believe the magic number for national retailers to start considering a downtown area is 10,000 residents. Keeping up on what is going on in places like Memphis, Milwaukee, Charlotte, etc. that is the numbers that they are reporting the nationals have given them to hit before they will look at locating downtown. Now obviously other factors would come into play, such as downtown workforce and daytime student population. But 10,000 residents is one of the key milestones that they are looking for.

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The answer is light-rail. Downtown will never thrive until there is a viable population living downthere. There will never be a viable population down there, with the current parking situation. Let's face it parking downtown, can be somewhat of a challenge for someone who doesn't want to fork over $20 for a couple of hours. You'd need people who'd live without vehicles. Around here they are a must because the transit system isnt adequate enough. We'd need light rail from downtown out to the Airport and up thru Alpine and such. so basically the people who lived downtown could get anywhere in the city. As it stands now, Rebecca the church going minivan mom from comstock park can barely handle making a lane change on Alpine Ave. Let Alone Drive all the way to 28th st. And she has never heard of downtown. And honestly GR is full of little dutch Rebecca's, and there four blond children. We are really going to need to invest, to attract the kind of people and businesses that would truly turn downtown into a retail center.

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You can lease a spot almost anywhere downtown for around $100/mo. Sorry, but that is simply a cost of living downtown. However, most developments are including their own parking structures so this is not even a major issue.

I don't see how a limited light rail line would benefit someone living downtown unless by chance they also happened to have a job near a station - which would be the exception.

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I dont think that retail will come to downtown without some real compromises from people and there cars. GR is not a city of walkers or of people who are willing to use public trasportation in large numbers. Parking ramps are too expensive and surface parking lots defeat the purpose of having a dense urban area to begin with! Even many of the newly arrived residents all have the cars they brought with them from there previous homes so they, more likely than not, will chose the confortable ride in the covered garage than to walk out in the heat, cold, rain, and snow for shopping.

Also, people who live downtown will actually have to want to shop down there. If you have, for example, a video store on Ottawa, and you choose to drive to one on Alpine, then the DT store will soon fold for lack of business from the people who live right next door. the large national chains SEE this and will not even bother with GR when that strip mall on 28th street is getting all the business.

Hope it all happens though. But it looks WAY eaiser said than done! :wacko:

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MJLO, while I would like to see a light rail system in GR, your supposition that the little Dutch lady and her 4 children would use it is incorrect. It would be viewed as unsafe and confusing and we would have expensive, empty trains running up and down the street.

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I believe the magic number for national retailers to start considering a downtown area is 10,000 residents.  Keeping up on what is going on in places like Memphis, Milwaukee, Charlotte, etc. that is the numbers that they are reporting the nationals have given them to hit before they will look at locating downtown.  Now obviously other factors would come into play, such as downtown workforce and daytime student population.  But 10,000 residents is one of the key milestones that they are looking for.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

10,000 residents in what kind of radius I wonder? I'm sure particular chain retailers also look at household income within a specific radius. Anyone know the details?

One of my girls has blond hair, and we're not dutch <_<

And the sheer cost of light rail would sink us all.

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GR is not a city of walkers or of people who are willing to use public trasportation in large numbers.

How do explain the success of the Rapid then?

Yes, urban life is something that needs to be learned. Hell, most of America is not used to walking to the grocery store, even those that live next to it. Like I said earlier, I really doubt that light rail will be a catalyst. The catalyst will be to get the right amount and type of people downtown (which we are doing) and then intelligently placing the retail in dense areas. Like I also said earlier. At this point, there are only two parts of downtown that have any real dream of meeting these goals.

North Downtown - which may be sooner rather than later. If Moch follows through, and GR Spring and Stamp leave, I could see Blue Bridge proposing a decent sized mix use development that will include retail. Now, a proposal from them is far from solid, but they seem to be working pretty hard to push GR Spring and Stamp out of the area.

Union Square, River House, Lower Bridge, American Seating - once the urban fabric begins to fill in, this will be an ideal location for a near downtown shopping district.

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And the sheer cost of light rail would sink us all.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Federal Government pays for the construction. The public taxes would be used to maintain the system. Build a line that would get the most use, and you got yourself an economic engine just calling on companies and businesses to line up at Grand Rapid's welcome mat.

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Quote: "MJLO, while I would like to see a light rail system in GR, your supposition that the little Dutch lady and her 4 children would use it is incorrect. It would be viewed as unsafe and confusing and we would have expensive, empty trains running up and down the street. "

My supposition, is that the little dutch lady wouldn't leave comstock park, to do her shopping, she would not be capable of navigating the freeway system let alone a light rail, or downtown for that matter. I'm saying we'd need to subplant a substantial amount of people that are used to urban living, from other cities. Where cars are not always needed, and in doing that a light rail system would be paramount. Because the people who live here will not support downtown living/retail, when d&w is in their backyard, target is down the street, and meijer is on every darn corner. my little dutch lady was an example of why not.

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I dunno. People learn rail transit fast. Buses pass along kind of a negative stigma, especially here in Michigan...even if the Rapid is a good system.

My mom and sister went to Chicago by themselves for the very first time a few weekends ago. My family is as "northern Michigan" as they come, so figuring out how to ride the transit was their biggest challenge, since they took the train from Lansing.

They figured it out relatively quickly, and were able to understand how bus transfers worked, etc...

I think using or not using transit is more than just desirability and access. I think people really DO desire to walk or have a subconscious need to walk. It's just that we've built our communities (or lack there of) so automobile dependant, that nobody WANTS to walk. What's the fun in walking past big box stores set back from the street 200 feet, and walking past acres of parking lots? Nothing!

Build a smart, urban environment that is interesting and comfortable to walk in, and I guarantee you, people will respond positively. There's so much more to transit than people jump to conclusions about. Transit is GOOD! :)

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"Rebecca the church going minivan mom from comstock park can barely handle making a lane change on Alpine Ave. Let Alone Drive all the way to 28th st. And she has never heard of downtown. And honestly GR is full of little dutch Rebecca's, and there four blond children."

What's wrong with Dutch, churchgoing, minivan drivers?

Seriously though, I'm not so quick to seperate out "Grand Rapidians" all the time from other city folk. People so often criticize people here as if it's better in other cities. So what if the population is predominatly Dutch? So what if they have four blonde kids? Other cities may have different quirks to their population base but from my travels I see people as more similar than different.

I spend quite a bit of time with a friend who lives in the inner ring suburbs of Chicago. They aren't Dutch, and don't drive a minivan, but they also wouldn't even consider getting on the rail system or bus system in Chicago. It's "too dangerous, and too confusing" and "why would we need to go downtown anyways?" It's the same concerns people would have here. The people are the same there's just more of them to choose from.

It'll just take enough people, like you guys, as "downtown pioneers" to set the whole system (housing, retail, public transit) into motion. Eventually the image of the average public transit user will change, the idea of walking or riding bikes will become more commonplace, and you'll see more and more people enjoying it. It's going to be an exciting decade!

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How do explain the success of the Rapid then?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Its doing better than before, but the number of people on those buses does not come close to the amout of people on the roads in cars. And it is still common to see empty busses riding along in a traffic jam.

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"Rebecca the church going minivan mom from comstock park can barely handle making a lane change on Alpine Ave.  Let Alone Drive all the way to 28th st.  And she has never heard of downtown.    And honestly  GR is full of little dutch Rebecca's, and there four blond children."

What's wrong with Dutch, churchgoing, minivan drivers? 

Seriously though, I'm not so quick to seperate out "Grand Rapidians" all the time from other city folk.  People so often criticize people here as if it's better in other cities.  So what if the population is predominatly Dutch?  So what if they have four blonde kids?  Other cities may have different quirks to their population base but from my travels I see people as more similar than different.

I spend quite a bit of time with a friend who lives in the inner ring suburbs of Chicago.  They aren't Dutch, and don't drive a minivan, but they also wouldn't even consider getting on the rail system or bus system in Chicago.  It's "too dangerous, and too confusing" and "why would we need to go downtown anyways?"  It's the same concerns people would have here.  The people are the same there's just more of them to choose from.

It'll just take enough people, like you guys, as "downtown pioneers" to set the whole system (housing, retail, public transit) into motion.  Eventually the image of the average public transit user will change, the idea of walking or riding bikes will become more commonplace, and you'll see more and more people enjoying it.  It's going to be an exciting decade!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The transit issue is hot here in Chicago, and it's a tough call on whether or not to use the train/bus or take the car. The Chicago Transit Authority is in a huge budget mess right now and has just been bailed out by the state to the tune of $55 million, and this apparently will only get them through till next summer. The CTA has even threatened major service cuts that would reduce service to weekend levels, even during rush hour, and the elimination of bus routes and one train route.

I lived in the city for four years, got rid of my car, and was perfectly happy taking the "L" to work, etc. I now live in an inner ring suburb of Chicago and still choose to take the bus to the train to get to work in the Loop. My wife does have a car, so we have one when we need it. I've considered buying a car, but with all the costs involved I've decided to stick with public transportation to get to and from work. My wife will even take the train to meet me for dinner. While the CTA is not the most reliable or clean source of transportation it works. A fair amount of us living in the Chicago burbs do take the CTA, or Commuter Rail. You can get a lot of reading done on the train, and it's relatively cheep at $80 bucks a month.

I think it would be great if the powers that be could bring light rail to Grand Rapids. From what I remember when they closed the S-curve lots of folks used those shuttles from Wyoming and Plainfield Township. I could work. It's a matter of MAJOR funding that that state and federal government don't have. Much of the funding would have to come from some sort of bond issue, similar to what was recently passed in Denver.

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The Federal Government pays for the construction.

Yeah, like we will see any of it.

Every penny we have asked for (transit grants, etc...) has been 'borrowed' by Detroit for research into their own system. Yeah right, more like being used to pay off fat cats and float the city budget. Hell, just the last grant we applied for and recieved was $30 million to develop a plan for mass transit in West Michigan.

Guess how much the Grand Rapids Transit Board got after it passed through Lansing...

$2.5 million.

It took us 35 years to get a new highway. We have two of the oldest highways (they are the oldest) in the WORLD. When have they been last updated? Hell, 96 has been two lanes since it was built.

Do you really think we will see a penny of Federal money for this. We all know who gets every single penny of Federal assistance in this State. The big, sinking, money pit in the East.

I think it is high time that Grand Rapids gets their cut. We need better representation at the State level.

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I think it would be great if the powers that be could bring light rail to Grand Rapids.  From what I remember when they closed the S-curve lots of folks used those shuttles from Wyoming and Plainfield Township.  I could work.  It's a matter of MAJOR funding that that state and federal government don't have.  Much of the funding would have to come from some sort of bond issue, similar to what was recently passed in Denver.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Maybe a bond issue or millage, but if "Rebecca" and her four kids won't fund a new mega-zoo (which I voted for), why would she fund a transit system she won't use. Maybe I am going to oversimplify the math here, but at the recent estimates of close to $1 Billion for a light-rail system, doesn't that work out to about $2000 for every man, woman and child in Kent County? Why would people outside of this area fund something like that for us (through the overextended federal government :P ).

How did Portland fund their light rail system? That would be interesting to see.

http://www.trimet.org/max/index.htm

Believe me, I think it would be cool to have a transit system like that, but the most dense areas in Kent County to support a system currently runs from downtown, through Heritage Hill, through the Southeast side/Ottawa Hills area. Where would you run the lines? And the ideas I have heard to run it down Southern US-131 begs even more questions. If you put stations at Wealthy, Burton, 28th, 36th, 44th, 54th..... who lives near these intersections? It is pretty industrial, and I don't see the proliferation of housing developments going up along 131 like what has happened in Portland. People would have to get in their cars in Wyoming, drive to a parking lot at the station at 28th/131, get on the train, ride to the current Rapid station downtown, transfer to a DASH bus or walk, OOOYYYY!

I would love to see it happen, but funding and a plan that makes sense still evades me.

Do you see what you started BostonianinGR :P

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Grand Rapids' time IS way overdue, in my opinion as well.

Southeast Michigan is a big chaotic money pit driven by Oakland County Republican leadership that proudly proclaims "I REPRESENT SPRAWL!" And morons like Craig DeRoch may be running for governor in the future? Lord, help us all!

On top of that, you have a major city crumbling to its knees at the mercy of L. Brooks Patterson and Mr. DeRoch, and the like.

Why beat around the bush? "I REPRESENT THE DEATH OF MICHIGAN!"

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I don't mean to hijack this thread, but let me ellaborate:

The portions I've bolded help to illustrate what I typed above --

JOURNAL: City in decay is a lesson for others

Once-thriving suburb now fights poverty alone after economic misfortune

June 23, 2005

BY BILL MCGRAW

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Metro Detroit's economy is changing so fast that even so-called cool cities are having money problems.

There's Mt. Clemens -- a.k.a. the Clem -- where the city commission has voted to disband the 113-year-old Police Department and contract with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office for protection.

There's sophisticated Royal Oak, where officials have discussed the possibility of selling city hall and leasing it back from the new owner.

I thought of Mt. Clemens and Royal Oak recently while in Highland Park.

Highland Park is not cool, at least not in the way Michigan's boosters of urban cool think of cool. But Highland Park knows economic change. And it used to be very cool.

Henry Ford made Highland Park the seat of his industrial revolution, but even a generation or so ago, Highland Park remained a suburban Superman, more productive than Mt. Clemens and more happening than Royal Oak.

Eleanor Blackwell recalled that era last week. She moved to Highland Park with her parents in the late 1940s and has lived on Geneva Street since 1969.

Blackwell described the Highland Park of yesteryear as a city with great neighborhoods, schools and shopping. It had a wonderful library housed in a lovely building on Woodward Avenue.

"It was a community, a place to raise families," she said.

We talked in a bedroom on the second floor of her home. The room smelled like soot, the carpet felt soggy and the ceiling was in tatters, exposing the charred roof. Her house was heavily damaged in a June 13 fire that started in the abandoned home next door. The fire is under investigation, as is a June 15 blaze that destroyed an occupied apartment building on nearby Stevens Street.

Blackwell's predicament illustrates what happens to a thriving city caught in an economic shift that results in unending job loss, dwindling services and abandonment.

After years of departures of businesses big and small, Highland Park appears to be collapsing on itself in many neighborhoods. Fred Durhal, the city's former director of economic development, said there are more than 700 abandoned or damaged buildings in Highland Park, which is only 2.9 square miles in size, with a population of about 16,000.

"There is an unbelievable amount of degradation," Durhal said.

At the abandoned police headquarters in the middle of town, bricks and cement are falling to the ground on a regular basis. Across the street, the fire department headquarters is condemned. The library is boarded up.

Standing on Blackwell's porch, you can see several abandoned homes. The lot next door is empty; the abandoned house that used to be there caught fire three years ago, and flames slightly damaged the west side of Blackwell's home.

"I sympathize with families who are here now," said Blackwell, who is not related to Art Blackwell, Highland Park's state-appointed emergency financial manager.

Highland Park is an extreme example of economic dislocation. There is no question, though, that metro Detroit is undergoing a profound transformation, one that is bound to affect the quality of life over time from Grosse Pointe to Gibraltar.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who is wrestling with budget problems of his own, predicts that financial demands will eventually force southeast Michigan's hundreds of suburbs and school districts to share services or even merge.

"Economic reality is going to force consolidation," Patterson said last week.

Highland Park continues to struggle, largely ignored by the rest of the region. Even with the auto industry's difficulties and all the other financial problems facing Michigan, it is difficult to imagine today's energetic suburbs devolving into versions of Highland Parks.

MICHI'S interjection: THE ABOVE COMMENT IS CRAP...It is one of the most obvious foreshadowings of the current time...the "Highland Park-inization" of the energetic sprawlburbs. Who's to blame?

No one in Highland Park foresaw what was coming, either.

There is good news: Workers are building homes on Highland Park's north side, and a lot of residents refuse to give up.

Blackwell, who serves on the school board and helps run a local charity, is one.

What's going to happen to Highland Park?

"I don't know," she said. "I just dream that someone will suddenly realize this city is worth saving."

MY POINT is, Grand Rapids, you're not alone! Perhaps, I have somewhat of a different perspective on this subject when it comes to National, State, and Local funding in Michigan. I also admit, I'm not the most educated on the subject from the political side, but I try to gain knowledge everyday in its regard.

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Michi:

It is sad when I hear the state of affairs in Detroit. Like it or not, it is just as important to us that Detroit come out of this successfully. One thing positive I have to say about GR is that we seem to have very few scandals (I know a few come to mind, but not a great deal) at the high levels of business and government (knock on wood).

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