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Crain's Grand Rapids Business Brief

Crain's Grand Rapids Business

- Grand Rapids USL Soccer stadium
- Grand Rapids New Community Transformation Fund
- Park Township Short-term Rentals dispute

This afternoon in our Crain’s Grand Rapids Business Brief, WGVU talks with Crain’s senior writer Mark Sanchez about the future construction of a downtown Grand Rapids USL Championship League soccer stadium.

Mark Sanchez: It’s been talked about, envisioned, dreamed about. Looks like it actually is now going to happen. Just last week, the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Arena Authority approved a memorandum of understanding with Grand Action 2.0. This is a group that's been pushing this vision and advocating and came up with this dream. And it's a document that stipulates the development, funding, construction, ownership, and operation of the stadium, which sounds like a pretty good idea that's going forward. It's more of a procedural move that occurred here late last week, but it's a move in that direction. It's a minor step in as Rich MacKeigan, regional manager for ASM Global that operates these facilities in town. You know, it's a step forward. It's part of the process. So, think about where Grand Rapids downtown is going? You know, a couple of weeks ago, we talked about the amphitheater looking to move forward down along the riverfront on the south end of downtown. And now you have another major element, another new major amenity with the soccer stadium. And boy, if they can land that professional soccer franchise, here's something new to Grand Rapids that adds to that downtown environment.

Patrick Center: Grand Action is telling us design is in the works. It's determining a final location and there are a handful of those. This is moving. I spoke with Kara Wood last week, who's the executive director of Grand Action. She says this is aggressive. They want to have this constructed by 2026.

Mark Sanchez: Yeah, this is an organization, this is a group of folks in town that tends to get things done. They have a long list of accomplishments. They envision what's a good project for this community or a project comes along and, you know, this is the business leadership that has the ability and the understanding of what's needed to get barriers out of the way and to proceed with the project. So, it's going forward and, you know, let's just say the property that's been most talked about is just north of Pearl Street and just west of U.S. 131, north of the Big Boy restaurant. So that's a good potential. At least that looks like where it could go and this move last week again, it's a step in the direction that goes forward to developing that stadium, that soccer stadium here in downtown Grand Rapids.

Patrick Center: We're talking with Crain's Grand Rapids Business Senior Writer, Mark Sanchez. The New Community Transformation Fund just continues to grow. It has great momentum, and those dollars are already being put to use.

Mark Sanchez: Yeah, this is the venture fund that was started here in Grand Rapids a few years ago. Minority focused investing in businesses owned by people of color. And why that target? Because a small percentage of the venture capital invested in America each year goes to the minority community, goes to organizations or to companies, startups founded by folks of color. And it's gotten a couple of nice investments, actually three nice investments here in the last couple of weeks. The latest was the Steelcase Foundation, put a half million dollars into the New Community Transformation Fund. Couple of weeks earlier, we saw the company that runs the electric transmission system, ITC Holdings Corporation out of Novi, I believe, they invested a half million dollars into the New Community Transformation Fund. Frey Foundation back in March put a half million dollars into the fund. And then Tuesday morning, we learned that the city of Grand Rapids threw some funding, put $100,000 into the fund. So, it's going forward, you know, venture capital fundraising is really slow right now. And across the nation, there's some data that came out this week, just that it's down significantly with talk about the economy, interest rates, and a lot of other variables. Fundraising for venture capital firms is down. But this is good to see that this particular fund and its focus gaining a little bit of traction with some nice investments lately.

Patrick Center: In Park Township, the short-term rental debate is back. What's happening there?

Mark Sanchez: This is an issue that's been simmering in many communities, especially the lakeshore communities, where folks want to come to the lake, enjoy the beach, have that lake life for a week or two. Where are they staying? Well, you see a lot of folks renting out their homes. They have a second home, and Airbnb is very popular these days. But this creates an issue. First, you're running a business in a residential neighborhood. Where I live on the lakeshore, I've known folks who have a home in a neighborhood near the waterfront, near downtown. And nobody's really objecting to folks generating revenue off their home. But in the case of folks we know, it's the guy who bought the house next door, then started renting it out to anybody who wants to go there. And you end up with the frat boy staying there for the weekend, who really don't care what type of disruption they cause for the neighborhood. So those are two things that kind of collide with one another. So, you've seen this playing out in many communities across the state of trying to regulate short-term rentals to kind of minimize that disruption on the neighborhood but allow people to generate income with that home that they have. And it's an issue that has played out in Park Township down there just north of Holland. And it implemented a complete ban on short-term rentals that took effect October 1. And now it's come back that the homeowners, about 100 residents there in Park Township, they filed a lawsuit in Ottawa County Court saying that they want to see this ban overturned. And basically, that ban now says that homeowners are prohibited from renting out their property in residential (areas) for periods of less than 28 days as the township really enforces the existing ordinance. And it's a community of about 19,000 residents there along Lake Michigan on the north shore of Lake Macatawa. This is the type of issue that again many communities along the lakeshore and in other communities have gone through this and now this particular community, Park Township, you now have some litigation challenging that ban that they instituted.

Patrick Center: There are arguments to be made for both sides of this issue. State lawmakers have been jumping into this as well. Is there state regulation or legislation that is being drafted?

Mark Sanchez: I'm not familiar with anything going on right now, although there is some court precedent about a 2019 case at the Michigan Supreme Court and that was in Spring Lake and the court said that the short-term rentals are commercial uses and not residential and therefore fall within the township's definition of hotels or motels which are not permitted in residential districts. So, it's kind of new turf in this kind of gig economy, digital age we live in where people can pull up their Airbnb app or some of the other apps when they're traveling and boy, I've stayed in Airbnbs and it's just absolutely love it when we're traveling. It's so much more convenient. You get a great place at a good price and it's a nice way to travel. So that kind of part of the economy is running head-on into this idea of what's the proper, what's the best way to regulate these? Again, you're talking about running this commercial enterprise in a residential district. That causes some disruption for a neighborhood, or it could, and this is something that's going to have to play out over a period of time, and again, this is one more example of litigation that's been filed over it.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.