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Success of West Side dependent on collaboration, retaining talent

  • From left: Ryan VerWys, Mike VanGessel, Matt McLogan, Diana Lawson.
  • Matt McLogan, vice president for University Relations.
  • Ryan VerWys, CEO of Inner City Christian Federation.

Posted on November 29, 2017

Community leaders emphasized inclusiveness, collaboration and developing talent as some of the keys to a successful future for Grand Rapids' West Side. 

"West Side Story," was the topic of the Peter F. Secchia Breakfast Lecture November 29 at the L. William Seidman Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

Speakers included Mike VanGessel, president of Rockford Construction; Ryan VerWys, president and CEO of Inner City Christian Federation; and Matt McLogan, vice president for University Relations at Grand Valley. Diana Lawson, dean of the Seidman College of Business, served as the moderator.

McLogan said the transformation of the West Side began when the Gerald R. Ford Museum and the Eberhard Center on the Pew Grand Rapids were built. He said positive changes have continued in the area with the availability of affordable housing, jobs and entertainment, which attract millennials and provide a stable footprint.

"The future of the West Side will be driven by people," McLogan said. "That means developing and retaining talent. To be vibrant, we need to pay attention to what millennials want."

VanGessel, who grew up on the West Side, said investors have made a huge impact on the area, citing Meijer's Bridge Street Market as one example. The market is set to open at the corner of Bridge Street and Seward Avenue in fall 2018.

"We are now seeing the benefits of long-term relationships and collaboration," said VanGessel. "It's important to listen, work with integrity and be true to yourself."

He said the West Side is unique because it doesn't have defined architecture so there is great opportunity for density and height when it comes to construction.

VerWys said challenges for longtime West Side residents include the rising cost of rent. He said residents want to protect what is good about their neighborhoods, so continued collaboration with developers and intentional inclusiveness is important.