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Cannabis retailer CEO and business partner help bring bus stop improvements to GR neighborhood

Pharmhouse Wellness/Courtesy Photo

A Grand Rapids cannabis retailer helped lead the effort to bring new improvements to a transit stop on the intersection of Wealthy and Front Street. The stop features an accessible platform for wheelchair riders, a bike lane, art and more.

WGVU’s Melorie Begay spoke with Pharhouse Wellness CEO Casey Kornoelje and Aligned Planning CEO Lynéé Wells about the project.

Melorie Begay: Both of you played really key roles in getting this transit stop for your neighborhood, but I kind of want to know a little bit more Casey about how you were able to help fund this project and why you decided it was something that you wanted to do.

Casey Kornoelje: So when we got into commercial cannabis or entered the commercial cannabis space in Grand Rapids in 2018 and 2019 when I started working with Lynéé and the live planning, is the city of Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan as well, they have a goal for cannabis companies to be good neighbors and good stewards. And they also have social equity programs that look at the cannabis operators and they look at their background. And for certain cannabis operators that meet criteria, those criteria allowed us to apply with the city of Grand Rapids and also the state of Michigan to gain what's called a social equity participant or operator status. And when we got that, the state and the city remitted back to us or discounted some of my annual licensing fees, which in conjunction with the good neighbor plan that the city of Grand Rapids also wanted to see. To me, it just seemed like the right thing to do to earmark those funds and to continue on with the positive momentum that Lynéé and I had created with establishing the business and to the next step for me and for us, I thought, was to try to improve the neighborhood as best we can. We developed a social equity plan, which Lynéé authored and of that social equity plan, one of the pillars is mobility enhancements, beautification efforts, greening. public art… So these initiatives were, I think, in part due to the good neighbor plan that the city of Grand Rapids wanted cannabis operators to fulfill. But in addition to that is, is our social equity plan and just really just trying to make this area a better place.

Lynéé Wells: We also met with neighbors, as well as the neighborhood association. When we were writing that social equity plan and Exodus Place shared with us a video that they made from years ago about several of their residents who are in wheelchairs and use wheeled devices and the difficulty that they were having getting to the bus stops in the area. We thought, well, this would be a wonderful benefit if we could find a solution to the challenges that those men were facing, as well as take it a step further and find ways to beautify that corner because it's sort of industrial, the look and feel of that street space. So how can we add more color and add more green and just show, I think residents and anyone passing by that someone cares about that area and kind of goes above and beyond just the norm, I guess.

MB: Going off of that, how important is it to really have a bus stop that isn't just, you know, functional and accessible, but also looks good?

LW: We did put a lot of thought into that. In the work that I've done in the past with Align Planning, I've had the opportunity to work with Mobile GR, with Downtown Grand Rapids Incorporated, with the Rapid and we've reviewed and also conducted our own surveys of riders, bus riders, and residents in the city and oftentimes we hear that the bus stop and the waiting experience is one of the most important ones in their daily journey and the thought is to help kind of raise awareness that bus riding is a choice and a viable option. And riding the bus can be a highlight of someone's day. And people who ride the bus, we know that they're pedestrians on either side of that trip, unless they're bringing their bike along. So how you get to a bus stop, what it's like when you're waiting for the bus, all of that helps that experience, you know, can either potentially make or break your decision whether you're going to choose the bus that day. And so anytime we can bring in seating, we could provide shelter, we can provide a dignified experience, then we're helping to show the riders as well as potential riders that this is a great choice for your day.

MB: Casey, did you want to add anything?

CK: Oh, I was just going to add that from like a social equity perspective, it's our belief that folks who have been affected by the war on drugs, disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, are more likely to experience limitations with travel and mobility and transportation. So... It's our belief, you know, or my belief that doing these things in our own ways is reversing some of those wrongs and some of the prohibition on cannabis. And that is a little bit different of a way to look at it than other people's social equity plans that I think they will first point to an expungement fair, or maybe they'll point to cash back to somebody, or maybe they'll point to various other things, but it's just unique in that sense. But I do believe that it also satisfies and qualifies with some form of a social equity lens to it.

MB: Yeah. And this stop has, from my understanding, is a test site for other future bus stops. And I'm curious, is there any kind of element to this bus stop that you think should be standard for all bus stops in Grand Rapids?

LW: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think that One of the things that we did here in conjunction with the rapid and we're working closely with their transportation planner, Max Dillivan, is that we relocated the bus stop on front street. The stop had been about, I mean, I want to say a thousand feet from the intersection of wealthy street. And what we did was we moved it closer to the intersection of front and wealthy so that it could be paired with the outbound bus stop on wealthy street. And by pairing bus stops and keeping them close together and located near a signalized intersection and crosswalk, we are doing a couple of things. We're shortening the distance, someone has to walk between the two stops. We're putting the bus stop near a crosswalk, which is going to be a safer, more predictable area for someone walking or biking and wanting to board the bus. And oftentimes there are street lights at intersections in Grand Rapids. And so that helps to just literally shed light on somebody who is walking or biking or waiting for the bus. It's going to be a safer area, especially at night or at dusk. So there are a lot of benefits to that. And I know the rapid has been very intentional about their bus stop placement. And I think this is one of the best practices. And so we were able to solve a situation where those stops were not paired until this test project.

MB: Are there any key takeaways that you want people to come away with, whether it's writers who were waiting for a bus or maybe other people in the cannabis industry that they can sort of take away from this project?

CK: For me, I think it's a wonderful example of what can happen when people have good intentions and when you work together. I mean, Lynéé did so much heavy lifting with the public and private organizations that helped us put this all together and so we’re very thankful for her and what she's done. But it's an example of all those groups coming together of yes, maybe Pharmhouse was some seed money for this, but with that seed money, you know, Lynéé was able to take the ball and run with it and work with other organizations to attract other funds and other resources that came together to make this amazing bus stop and the ZEKLA and the planters and all the beauty that's there now. So I just think it's a testament to that and I think that it's an example to the city of Grand Rapids and also to the neighborhood, which is a promise that I made to them when I first approached the neighborhood asking for their blessing to do business in this neighborhood because it was a new industry that I wanted to follow through. You know, I wanted to follow through on that and I think we are. So those are great things. It's an example that a neighborhood can be a more friendly and attractive place with a cannabis retailer and with a cannabis grow right in the midst and can be even better than it was before we got here.

MB: That's Casey Kornoelje with Pharmhouse Wellness, who was joined by Lynéé Wells with Aligned Planning. Thank you both so much.

CK: Thank you.

LW: Thank you.

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