Grand Rapids Tries To Re-Brand A Former Auto Plant

When General Motors went into Chapter 11 protection three years ago, it closed factories all over the Midwest. 

One of them was the Grand Rapids Metal Center, a 2 million square foot stamping plant in Wyoming, Mich. Once the biggest employer in that Grand Rapids suburb, it was the first site sold by Motors Holdings, the company created to liquidate GM’s unwanted locations.

Now, new owners are trying to give the 75-year-old factory a new identity, reports Lindsey Smith at our partner Michigan Radio. They’ve demolished most of what was once they’re and re-branded the location as Site 36 (the factory’s address was 300 36th Street).

The developers would like to attract a global company, but they know there’s limited cache to trying to peddle a former GM plant. Thus, the new name.

Can it work? Many communities around the region are trying to find their own solutions, from Janesville, Wis., to Wixom, Mich., and Dayton, Ohio.

How We Think About Public Transportation Is Changing

Chicago is experiencing record ridership of the CTA, and it’s on a drive to spruce up 100 stations. Cleveland has high speed buses from downtown to the Medical Center. In Canada, Toronto has streetcars and every kind of transit you can imagine, including rental bikes.

Toronto rental bikes/photo by Micki Maynard

But Detroit? Well, besides the People Mover, public transportation has never been a big priority. However, mindsets may be changing, according to veteran journalist Rick Haglund.

In a column this weekend, Haglund says the environment for public transportation seems to be changing in Michigan. He cites two reasons: younger people aren’t as interested in driving or owning cars as they once were, and governments and business leaders are lending their support. Continue reading “How We Think About Public Transportation Is Changing”

Midwest Memo: Cleaning Up In Indy, Expanding In Grand Rapids And Turning Trash Into Energy In Cleveland

The day after The Super Bowl is over, and now the cleanup process begins for Indianapolis.

Opportunity knocked Reuters looks into what happened to all those clients of MF Global, after the firm collapsed. Turns out two Chicago firms were the biggest winners, bringing in $1.2 billion in new funds.

More ‘Free’ beds The Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. is planning a $48 million expansion. The expansion will double the hospital’s size.

Gasification fight Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson wants to turn the city’s trash into energy. But environmentalists have raised concerns about emissions from the “gasification” process. And the city council is not sold on the idea.

Going once, going twice, oh never mind … Detroit residents who had their homes taken away because of a failure to pay taxes are getting an opportunity to buy those homes back. The Detroit News reports that thousands of city-owned properties failed to sell at auction. So officials now say they’ll offer to sell the property back to the original owner, or whoever is squatting in the home, for as little as $500.

Not really ‘Made In Detroit’ Last week, we put together a list of all the companies making t-shirts to show your local pride in the Midwest. Today, Susan Tompor looks at one of those companies and asks Where are those ‘Made In Detroit’ shirts actually made?”

Want To See What A $3 Million Car Looks Like? Come To Grand Rapids This Weekend

The 1948 Tucker Torpedo

Classic car buffs were dazzled this past weekend when a 1948 Tucker smashed records at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Tucker, one of just 51 built, sold for $2.91 million, including transaction fees. a significant markup over its original $2,450 sticker price.

If you’re in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, Mich., this weekend, you’ll be able to see what a car like this looks like. The Torpedo owned by the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Mich.,  will be on display at the Michigan International Auto Show. It’s the same color and model as the one sold on Saturday.

The Gilmore Tucker was last put on display at the show in 2004, when it was valued at a mere $5,000, according to a press release. It has only 51 original miles, untouched paint and the factory grease pencil markings on it. Continue reading “Want To See What A $3 Million Car Looks Like? Come To Grand Rapids This Weekend”

Philanthropy Is A Key Midwest Economic Development Player

Here’s one way an economy can begin to turn around: a business person sees an opportunity. Maybe it’s a building that’s been sitting empty, or a block corner that’s looking run down. The business person gets together with investors, and maybe lands some government tax incentives. It becomes a public-private partnership.

But sometimes, an economic turnaround starts not with investors or public money. It starts with philanthropy. Dustin Dwyer recently reported for Changing Gears from Grand Rapids, Mich., on the role that philanthropy is playing there, and elsewhere in the Midwest.

Philanthropists are fueling Grand Rapids' growth.

Here’s his look at the role of philanthropy.

All over downtown Grand Rapids, there are major projects that came about because of philanthropy, such as the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. One block north, sits the convention center. A few blocks south is the Van Andel Arena. To the west, there’s the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Meijer Broadcast Center, and the YMCA.

To the east, up Monroe Avenue Northwest is what’s called Medical Mile. $1 billion dollars went into building the medical and bio-research facilities over there – much of that in the form of private donations.

Without these developments and without philanthropy, Grand Rapids’ downtown would seem pretty empty.


Continue reading “Philanthropy Is A Key Midwest Economic Development Player”

Empty Places, Many Solutions: Our Series About Transformations and Challenges

All across the Midwest, cities and suburbs are tackling the problem of Empty Places. Throughout November, Changing Gears took a look at some of the challenges and solutions involved in transforming property from the past.

In Flint, Mich., Kate Davidson found there may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1.  It’s one of the factories that was occupied by sit-down strikers in the 1930s.  The plant made tanks during World War II.  It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center.  But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars.  They sell very expensive prescription drugs.

In suburban Chicago, Tony Arnold reported that  as companies adjust to economic conditions, many in the region have been re-evaluating the basics – including where they’re located. Cities and states bend over backwards to create jobs, and they’re left with some big challenges when a company decides it no longer wants its headquarters there. Continue reading “Empty Places, Many Solutions: Our Series About Transformations and Challenges”

Your Story: Once An Abandoned Liquor Store, Now A Brewery

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.

Barry Van Dyke working on what is now the Harmony Brewing Company

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.

Continue reading “Your Story: Once An Abandoned Liquor Store, Now A Brewery”

EMPTY PLACES: The Economic and Social Cost of Emptiness

This week, Changing Gears kicks off a look at Empty Places 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, reporter Dustin Dwyer explores the economic and social cost of emptiness. Things may be better in some neighborhoods, he says, but problems still abound.

Vacant homes in Detroit. Photo: Mary's Detroit Photoblog

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There is no one number that tells the story of all the empty houses, storefronts, offices and factories in the Midwest. But there are many numbers that tell part of the story.

Like this: One out of ten. One out of ten homes in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin was vacant in 2010. That’s according to the U.S. Census.

Or these numbers:  Twenty-two percent of office space in the Cleveland area is empty. Chicago offices are 19 percent empty. Metro Detroit: almost 27 percent.

Those numbers are from the real estate firm Grubb & Ellis. Fred Liesveld from the firm’s Detroit office says those numbers have actually been getting better for almost a year. He said of the 27 percent vacancy figure: “We haven’t seen that in a decade. That’s just great news.”


Continue reading “EMPTY PLACES: The Economic and Social Cost of Emptiness”

Midwest Memo: Biden Touts Jobs Bill in Michigan, Rahm Emanuel Promises to Face Chicago’s ‘Sacred Cows’

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Biden champions jobs bill. Vice President Joe Biden made two stops in Michigan on Wednesday, touting President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill. In a visit to Flint, Biden noted the city’s rise in murders, rapes and fires that occurred as police and fire staffing levels dropped. “That is a witch’s brew,” Biden tells Businessweek. “That is a mixture for a cancer in the city.” Later, during a stop in Grand Rapids, the vice president said economists believe the American Jobs Act would create 2 million jobs next year. Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said federal funding recently helped the city hire six police officers, but more are needed.

2. Chicago budget proposal chops services. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a budget that called for taxes on tourists and suburbanites, close three police stations, streamline garbage collection, cut library hours and double water bills for the average household by 2015, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve taken on a tremendous amount of political sacred cows,” Emanuel said  during a presentation to the City Council. “Not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, but multiple times across the budget.”

3. Hydrofracking permits soar in Ohio. The pace of permits being issued for hydrofracking in Ohio has quickened. The Columbus Dispatch reports today that 27 permits were issued for drilling in the Utica Shale formation underneath Ohio from July to September – more than half the total number issued since 2009. Meanwhile, Democrats in the state House said yesterday they would seek a moratorium on hydrofracking in the state until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes a study on the controversial drilling’s effects on air and water.

Midwest Memo: Double-dip fears dim; architects propose walkable plan for Motor City

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Fears of a double-dip recession dim. An index of leading economic indicators inched upward in May, according to our partner station, alleviating some fears that the nation’s economy would enter a double-dip recession. The Conference Board’s index, which rose 0.8 percent in May, suggests the economy will show “modest growth” through the summer months.

2.Nearly 2,000 artists register for ArtPrize. The annual art competition in Grand Rapids will have almost 2,000 artists at 199 participating locations. Registration for the event closed Thursday. Founded by Rick DeVos, ArtPrize offers more than $450,000 in prizes. Last year, ArtPrize welcomed 1,713 artists at 192 venues, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Continue reading “Midwest Memo: Double-dip fears dim; architects propose walkable plan for Motor City”