Tim Kelly’s heart beats with the pulse of downtown Grand Rapids, the place he works, plays and lives. As president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), he’s immersed in the workings of downtown like few others.
“The most appealing things about Grand Rapids are that it’s a growing city, people are committed to the city, and people are interested in participating in the growth and development of the city,” said the West Michigan native.
Kelly was born and raised in Kalamazoo and did his undergrad work at Hope College, earning a degree in management. He moved to Boston to work at a bank, then to California where he lived for a decade. He worked at a startup company there, but his real passion, he discovered, was working within a community. He earned his master’s degree in city planning from Cal Poly, which led to an internship and then long-term job with the city of Long Beach.
He and his wife, an attorney, moved back to West Michigan in February 2013 for his work with DGRI and are now raising their 3-year-old son to enjoy the benefits of downtown Grand Rapids. Kelly loves to take advantage of the area’s many bike trails, explore outdoor areas including Aman, Riverside and Pleasant parks, bicycle to a Whitecaps game and, of
course, Lake Michigan.
“We love to be active and outside,” he said. “We can have the urban city life, but the natural amenities are still there.”
His top places in the heart of the city include the Studio Park development, which his office has been involved in for a couple of years, Ah-Nab-Awen Park and the Grand River itself.
“We’re working closely with Grand Rapids Whitewater and the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians on river revitalization, on turning our river into a community gathering point,” said Kelly. DGRI will be involved in planning and creating trails and parks along the river in the years to come as creation of the rapids begins to occur.
Other faves include events at Van Andel Arena, trying the new restaurants populating downtown GR and hanging out at Vertigo Music on South Division Avenue.
In the less than a decade, he’s been in Grand Rapids, Kelly has noticed changes. The biggest, he said, is infill development. For laypeople, infill development means building on once-empty lots or turning surface parking lots into buildings. “We don’t want all surface parking; we want restaurants, offices and residential spaces,” he said, pointing out the new parking structures that dot the downtown area.
Which is due to another change: residential growth in downtown Grand Rapids.
Public art displays to visit this winter
By Charlsie Dewey
DGRI is behind these temporary public art installations coming to downtown this month.
Winter Tumbleweeds and Grasses by The Department
Winter Tumbleweeds and Grasses, created by local artists Barbara Lash and Sierra Cole, will feature small groves of colorful foam tubes set vertically to mimic a series of grasses for seating along with interactive tumbleweeds. Find it at the Blue Bridge in January.
Impulse by CREOS
The Impulse installation consists of 15 interactive seesaws that are illuminated with a variation of LED lights and sounds. Find it at 555 Monroe Ave. NW, from Jan. 22 – Feb. 28.
HYBYCOZO by Hybycozo
HYBYCOZO, or Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone, will have six rented seven-foot sculptures of different shapes along the Grand River at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, 220 Front Ave. NW, from Jan. 1 – Feb. 28.
“It’s really about providing different housing types and price points to create opportunities to live here,” said Kelly, who is expecting additional residential growth. DGRI’s goal five years ago was housing for 5,000 residents. He wants that to double to 10,000 downtown residents.
Toward that end are conversations about homelessness and affordable housing with players such as Mel Trotter Ministries, Network180, Degage Ministries and Heartside Ministry. Students attending the many colleges and universities downtown also are a consideration.
“We want to know who already lives here and make sure we’re taking them into account,” said Kelly, who is 40.
Collaboration is a key component to Kelly’s work with DGRI, which works with more than 100 citizen advisers and nine leadership boards and alliances. It is the management entity behind the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Improvement District and the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority. “We have a very diverse set of stakeholders and have lots of discussions,” he said. “We also need to provide options to move around downtown and change the mindset about how people move.”
Kelly’s vision for downtown Grand Rapids is really about what the community wants for downtown. He envisions restoration of the rapids on the Grand River with attendant parks and trails; he sees more housing and more retail to support residential growth; he sees racial and social equity. He also sees work needed in the areas of retail, housing, outdoor space and mobility.
“I want to make sure growth that happens downtown isn’t just for the few, but that all people in the city can get jobs and experience some of the revitalization. The question is, how do you create a city that everyone thrives in?” said Kelly. “We want to protect and sustain businesses here too so that all of our work is preserved.”
Grand Rapids has huge assets, chief among them a population “that cares about downtown,” he said. He points to a world-class music venue and arena; seven institutions of higher learning; the Medical Mile, which he calls “an engine that spurs growth”; and, of course, the Grand River, the original player in downtown Grand Rapids’ growth and development.
When he’s not working on downtown, Kelly is enjoying downtown. He’ll continue to discover new parks, ride new bike trails, try new restaurants, attend concerts and other events, and search for the best records at Vertigo.
“Cities are always growing and adapting, and it’s exciting to be at the forefront of that for a growing city,” Kelly said.
This story can be found in the January 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here.