GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — John Ball Zoo was the setting for a Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce call to action Tuesday, with leadership outlining a list of requests for the state to help West Michigan businesses survive.
“We call upon our leaders to do more to help save our small business community,” Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said.
In Grand Rapids, like everywhere else, businesses have had to come up with creative solutions to survive after they were ordered to close their doors to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Sara Gray, owner of indoor cycling studio Lunar Cycle at Michigan Street and Lyon Avenue NE, said she sent bikes to her customers and holds classes online.
“I decided that what was the most important thing for me to focus on was to be agile, to have direction and to provide hope,” Gray said.
The Chamber of Commerce said it wants more information about what shops can open and when.
“In order to mitigate the economic devastation we’re all currently experiencing, we need a little bit more direction,” Chamber Vice President for Government Relations Andy Johnson said.
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The chamber says it has offered $1.4 million in relief to small businesses. Despite that, it has heard grim news from members.
“Of those that responded (to a recent survey), an alarming number of them are concerned about their future. Actually, about 15% of them don’t think they would be able to survive one more month with the stay-at-home order and being shut down,” Baker said.
Members believe that it will be well into 2021 before they recover.
The chamber asked the state to allow businesses to delay their summer property tax bills until the end of the year. It also said owners should be shielded from liability lawsuits if people get sick as a result of reopening.
“We’re looking some liability protection for businesses that have followed the rules and not be exposed to lawsuits from people who may claim to be infected or whatever it might be,” Baker explained.
The chamber wants the state to allow bars and restaurants to be able to serve liquor outside and to block off streets to allow for socially distant dining. It said the city should shut down Monroe Center downtown and recreate a type of mall like the one that was there for 17 years before the road was opened to traffic in 1997.
“I can’t wait to see Monroe Center closed down and opened up with seating,” Johnson said.
JOHN BALL ZOO ‘HOPING’ TO REOPEN MAY 29
The host of the chamber event has its own plans.
Zoo officials hope to open for their 129th season on May 29 for members and May 30 for the general public. But CEO Peter D’Arienzo had a caveat:
“When I say ‘hoping,’ we’re hoping we’re in the governor’s phase four plan and we’ll always follow the law and we won’t open until it’s safe to do so,” he said.
The zoo has created a 22-page opening plan for the various phases of the governor’s reopening schedule.
“When we open initially, it won’t be business as usual,” D’Arienzo said.
All the in-door exhibits — the reptile house, aquarium, indoor chimpanzee habitat, indoor penguin habitat and gift shop — will remain closed. Staff will man the restrooms, allowing only one family at a time. The bathroom will be sanitized after each use. The zoo will also hand-washing stations with soap and running water and lots of hand sanitizer available.
“You won’t be able to walk more than a couple hundred feet without running into either a hand-washing station or a restroom,” D’Arienzo said.
The park plans to limit capacity to about 1,000 people at a time to allow for appropriate spacing. On a normal day, the zoo can attract between 5,000 to 7,000 people from all 50 states.
Tickets will be available online and will list times like a movie showing. Visitors will only be allowed in when others have left. They will be asked to wear masks for their own safety, as well as the safety of the staff and animals.
Zoo officials believe that plan will mean they can open and continue with their main mission of helping wildlife, which is funded by attendance.
“We’ve had to put a pause on scientific research, releasing animals back into the wild and stuff like that,” D’Arienzo said.
If the zoo does in fact open in 10 days, it will be among the first major entertainment venues in West Michigan to do so.
It is hiring.