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Grand Rapids' "West Side Story" explored during GVSU Seidman College of Business event

Photo Credit: Rex Larsen

Grand Rapids’ West Side is experiencing a renaissance that began 16 years ago. Grand Valley State University’s Seidman Alumni Association hosted an event called “West Side Story” with speakers explaining the transformation of its neighborhoods and business districts.

“We’re open for business. I think the West Side for too many years has had West Siders trading dollars with each other.”

Mike VanGessell is a West Sider and CEO of Rockford Construction. He moved the business to the West Side and is now transforming it. As the area develops Rockford has hired six architectural firms for its projects.

“We want the West Side to develop as much as possible in the context of how cities developed historically. It wasn’t one architect or one developer that came in and did everything. That’s not authentic.”

New business district structures are not too tall and step-down towards the neighborhoods.

“We have developers who are coming in who have good intent. They have a desire to help strengthen the community on the West Side, but we also have a historic pattern of disinvestment.”

Ryan VerWys is President and CEO of Inner City Christian Federation. He says residents are cautious. ICCF is working with them and developers preserving affordable housing and business opportunities.

“That there’s opportunity that’s equitable. That people have sufficient onramps to be a part of that returning vitality economically to the community.”

VanGessel says the West Side is positioned house a variety of residents from students attending Grand Valley State University’s West Side campus to young professionals and empty nesters.

“You can have some lifestyles that the core of downtown doesn’t deliver. You can have a backyard. You can have your pet. You can have some of the opportunity to go to some of the bars and restaurants and have that walkability in your life.”

But the success of the West Side may lie in retaining and attracting families and to make certain Grand Rapids Public Schools are successful.

Patrick Center, WGVU News.

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.