and Kraig Schneider and their son Kai relax
at Ah-Nab-Awen Park on the west side of
downtown, with a perfect view of downtown
Living it up
Photography by Michael Buck
comes downtown for the restaurants and
entertainment, but 13 secret truths show
there’s not much reason to drive
back to suburbia.
and the livin’ is
... easy. Nine years ago,
empty nesters Pat and Jane Scripps sold their
suburban home and moved
downtown to an 1,100-square-foot, one-bedroom
condo in Plaza Towers — “before
the kids had achance to move back home,” said
and Keisha Schneider, along with 10-month-old
Kai, are the new kids on the vertical block.
in a Union Square condo on the edge of
west side, this young family
longed for an urban experience that rivals life
in the suburbs. They plan to take full advantage
of downtown’s family-friendly offerings,
such as the Grand Rapids Children Museum, the
parks and playgrounds, and ice skating at Rosa
“We’ll spend a lot of time walking
by the river with our son,” said Kraig.
These city slickers aren’t looking back.
As downtown has emerged over the past two decades
from a sleepy pedestrian mall and too many
empty buildings into a bustling beacon for business
and entertainment, downtown living is only
“Our main focus is to create an environment
that people want to be in,” said Sharon
Evoy, executive director of the Grand Rapids
Alliance. That includes ameliorating safety concerns
and creating and maintaining green space. “This
is very much a neighborhood, a little more concentrated
than you’ll traditionally find (in the
So just how easy is it to live downtown?
Here’s the inside scoop — where to
park, where to walk and where to shop (yes, you
can shop downtown), all without grabbing the
car keys. Downtown residents know where to catch
a sunset and where to catch dinner. They also
revealed how to score tickets to sold out shows
(legally) and save money at the meter (also legally).
Call it “street smart” for a savvy,
new generation of downtown dwellers.
Grand Rapids Magazine lets you in on their secrets.
Tunnels, bridges and walkways — oh my!
After you’ve been downtown
a while, you learn how to get around to area shops,
and entertainment venues, sometimes without ever
going outside. The Grand River Concourse (formal
name for the skywalk) connects more than a half-dozen
downtown buildings and is a favorite for downtown
power walkers, stretching close to a mile. The
skywalk extends from DeVos Place Convention Center
at its north end to Van Andel Arena at its southern
end, with new links being added from the National
City Building to the new JW Marriott and its
If you prefer walking underground, tunnels run
under Ottawa and Pearl streets, connecting various
buildings, such as Chase Bank to the Government
Center Parking ramp. These tunnels are open to
downtown patrons during normal business hours.
Downtown also offers two pedestrian bridges — the
Gilette and the Blue — to cross the river.
Jane and Pat Scripps
love the view from the balcony of their downtown
condo in Plaza Towers.
It’s a walk-and-go lifestyle for downtown
dwellers. In fact, city residents are skinnier
than their suburban counterparts — up to
12 pounds lighter, according to Public Health Journal’s
2004 study “Suburban Sprawl and Physical
and Mental Health.”
From their home in Plaza Towers, 11 Monroe Ave.
NW, Pat and Jane Scripps can get to their bank,
salon, eye doctor and some of their favorite
restaurants without going outside. They can also
walking paths near their condo.
“Sometimes we don’t use the car all week,” said
Pat, a financial consultant at AG Edwards,
50 Monroe Ave. NW. Jane walks to work at Seyferth
Tennyson, 40 Monroe Center NW. If they both
windows, they could converse about where to
walk for dinner.
Secret No. 2
The greater downtown area has 10 public parks.
Pick one and take a walk, a run or a picnic.
Best Sunset: Lookout Park, corner of Fairview
and Newberry NE. This 160-foot cliff faces west,
North Monroe and the river. Closes at dusk.
Best Walk: Ah-Nab-Awen Park. This park is on
the west bank of the Grand River, in front of
R. Ford Museum.
Best Playgrounds: Sixth Street Bridge Park, between
Monroe Avenue and the river, just south of the
bridge, and Canal Street Park, between Monroe
Avenue and the river, north of bridge (at Mason
Family Fun: Heartside Park, 69 Ionia Ave. SE.
Located in the Heartside district (between Ionia
avenues), this four-acre park has a water park,
picnic shelter and basketball court.
Best Fishing: Fishladder Park, 560 Front Ave.
Best Place for an
Outdoor Office Lunch: Crescent Park, 301 Bostwick Ave.
NE. One of the oldest
parks downtown, it’s near Spectrum Health
and Grand Rapids Community College.
Best in Show: Rosa Parks Circle, 155 Monroe Center
NE. You can ice skate in the winter, see a concert
in the summer, all while enjoying a Maya Lin
“Honorable” Mentions: Veterans Memorial Park, 101 E. Fulton St.,
offers monuments that
war veterans, a fountain and large shade trees.
Monument Park, 2 N. Division Ave., is a tribute
to Civil War veterans.
Secret No. 3
Say goodbye to parking tickets – forever.
Even the most committed walkers need to drive
sometimes. Smart Auto Meter (SAM) is a small
meter you can purchase at Grand Rapids Parking
Services. It hangs from your rear view mirror
and works with a pre-paid SAM Smart Card. Instead
digging for change, prepay monthly and let SAM
track your time. Contact Grand Rapids Parking
Services at 456-3290.
Secret No. 4
Get a convenient cheap ride to the airport.
Air Porter, a shuttle service provided
by The Rapid (Grand Rapids’ public transportation
system), runs between Gerald R. Ford International
and the Amway Grand Plaza, the Courtyard by
Marriott and the Days Inn. The service is available
a.m.-9:30 p.m. every 30 minutes, seven days
a week (including
holidays). Pay $15 one way or $25 round trip.
Call (877) 397-4377 or visit www.grand rapidsairporter.com.
Secret No. 5
Visitors are welcome (and encouraged).
When the in-laws come for a visit,
forget the spare room and sleeper sofa. Some
of the poshest
are downtown — for instance, The Courtyard
by Marriott inside Plaza Towers, and the Amway
Grand Plaza, 187 Monroe Ave. NW. Of course,
the JW Marriott is due to open this fall at
Street and Campau Avenue, offering flat-screen
24-hour room service.
On second thought, let guests
stay at the condo — and
you get the hotel room.
Secret No. 6
You can live tax free.
The Schneiders took advantage of this secret
when they moved to Union Square last November.
pays no property or city or state income taxes
until 2012 because they live in a designated
Grand Rapids’ Renaissance
Zone program has become the most successful
in Michigan. Since
program started 10 years ago, the total investment
within the 10 Ren Zone areas is $251 million,
according to the city of Grand Rapids.
Secret No. 7
There’s a grocery store downtown — and
“That’s the first question people ask us,” said
The Grand Central Market and Deli at 57 Monroe
Center NW offers urbanites access to the same
fine foods available at larger suburban chains.
its Web site at www.grandcentralmarketgr.com.
Scripps sometimes shops there, and sometimes
goes to her suburban favorite, Forest Hills Foods.
says her drive to the Grand Rapids Township grocery
store is quicker from downtown than it was from
her home in Ada.
Secret No. 8
Residents and city officials say it’s
Virtually all urban areas have more crime than
suburban areas, due to the denser population,
but downtown residents interviewed by Grand Rapids
Magazine say they feel safe. In 2006, two of
23 murders in the city occurred within the official
borders of downtown. Other 2006 downtown statistics
included seven of 73 rapes, 72 of 719 robberies,
104 of 1,159 aggravated assaults, 85 of 2,566
burglaries, and 27 of 720 motor vehicle thefts.
Having the Grand Rapids
Police Department headquarters literally in
the middle of downtown — at
1 Monroe Center, which was originally designed
to be the city’s main street — “adds
an element of safety,” according to Lt.
Ralph Mason of the police department.
“We are here,” Mason said of the downtown
area. “We walk to court; we’re
walking around near the bars and the downtown
There also is a bicycle cop who patrols the downtown
Secret No. 9
Downtown is green and proud of it.
Metro Grand Rapids leads the country
with more square footage per capita under LEED
than any other U.S. city, according to the
U.S. Green Building Council. The Rapid Central
Lacks Cancer Center and the YMCA are just a
few examples of downtown’s green buildings.
The new Grand Rapids Art Museum, opening in
phases through the fall, is the first art museum
world to be LEED certified.
Secret No. 10
You can find goods and services downtown. Really.
Superb hospitals. Clothing, shoes,
gifts, books, music, furniture. It’s all there. Not all
in one location, of course, but you can stroll
from shop to shop and get everything you need — from
Altoids to zipper pulls (see list). And that’s
not to mention at least 34 bars and restaurants,
13 coffeehouses and 15 art galleries that stand
up to the Motor City or the Windy City or the
Big Apple. OK, maybe the Little Apple.
Secret No. 11
Score tickets to your favorite sold-out concerts.
Jane Scripps has walked to the arena and picked
up tickets to Tim McGraw, Tina Turner and Cher
“Time it right and you can hit the arena and find
someone trying to get rid of an extra ticket,” she
It’s also a little known fact that downtown
shows open up seats just before the show starts
on a first-come first-served basis.
Local theater is just footsteps away, too.
“There were things we didn’t drive in for,” Jane
said. “But since we’re down here … when
you’re walking around, you know what’s
They enjoy seeing plays
at Civic Theatre and Spectrum Theater, both
within walking distance
of home. “It’s
very close, very cool,” Pat Scripps said.
Secret No. 12
Downtown condos — now taking reservations.
New condos are everywhere and range from luxurious
to downtown chic. Check them out at the Parade
of Downtown Living, June 8-10. See Calendar of
13: Future Secrets
Downtown Grand Rapids may not have everything
to make it convenient. Not quite yet.
The Scripps and the Schneiders agree that downtown
could use more shopping and another entertainment
venue. Vertical mall and movie theater, anyone?
And downtown apparently
is lacking in one “emergency” service.
Said Jane Scripps: “We don’t
have any place for the 10 p.m. ice cream