Published in Economic Development
From left: Tom Welch, Carol Van Andel and Dick DeVos From left: Tom Welch, Carol Van Andel and Dick DeVos COURTESY PHOTO

Grand Action reboots to tackle new transformational projects in GR

BY Sunday, March 15, 2020 06:10pm

Grand Action resumes operations in a far different Grand Rapids than 28 years ago. Now at the helm are Carol Van Andel, Dick DeVos and Tom Welch, the regional president of Fifth Third Bank. They serve as co-chairs of Grand Action 2.0, which intends to “foster public-private collaborations on transformational projects that benefit health, education, science, the arts, economic vitality, and the residents of the region.” Grand Action was first formed in 1992 and went on hiatus in early 2018 with the retirement of co-chairs John Canepa and David Frey. Over 25 years, Grand Action pushed major downtown developments such as Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, the move of Michigan State University’s medical school and development of the Secchia Center, and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. Van Andel spoke with MiBiz about what to expect from Grand Action 2.0.

Why did Grand Action decide to come back now from hiatus?

We had a lot of encouragement from the community to bring Grand Action back together, and we’re seeing a need for the public-private partnership in the community. A couple of years ago when they decided to disband, Grand Action wasn’t seeing any projects or need at that time. Now, by popular demand, they’re asking Grand Action to resume and, hopefully, keep the momentum and the collaboration going in the community to ensure continued success of economic development.

How is downtown Grand Rapids different today than in 1992 when Grand Action started?

I think it’s just so vibrant, and there’s always something. You have options. You could be doing something every night. That’s the difference. It’s a vibrant city, and it’s a city where people have lived their whole life, this is where their roots are, and they want to continue to see that. We’re going to feed off of that momentum. There are many exciting other projects that I think we can add that will enhance the community and the surrounding projects that were already completed by Grand Action back then.

How does the past work by the original Grand Action play into today?

In many ways, the development that we’re seeing in downtown Grand Rapids, I have to say, is a direct result of the collaboration sparked by the original Grand Action group. Many of the projects that were built in the last 25 years followed the development of the arena, the convention center, the Medical Mile and Downtown Market. So we’re really excited about the transformation that has already occurred, and we’re really excited about the transformation that’s next to come.

Is it big brick-and-mortar projects that Grand Action wants to advance, or do you see the organization extending into other types of projects?

We may assess other development possibilities or projects under way. The mission of Grand Action 2.0 is to identify public-private partnerships that can transform our community, and look for ways to assist those opportunities in a way that’s beneficial for all.

The Whitewater project (on the Grand River) is going to bring in a whole new level of excitement, too, which will bring in more visitors and tourism. These things that are outside of the box are innovative and just as important as brick and mortar.

If the right one is out there, we’re going to choose it.

How will the different generation of business leadership today play into how Grand Action 2.0 will look at projects and focus its time and energy?

We have invited some of the next generation to serve on our executive committee. What I may think would be an important project, they might think differently, so I’m really looking forward to hearing their voice and what they see for the future because obviously they’re going to be filling our shoes. 

A lot of the younger or next generation — many love the downtown area. They like the walkability to be able to go to restaurants, so livability is important. We really want to stress livability, and also a welcoming culture for everyone. 

Is it just downtown, or do you see Grand Action 2.0 giving more attention to the neighborhoods?

It won’t be just downtown. We definitely will look at other areas. Where will some of the projects be best suited or placed? Location will be important.

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