GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dozens of leaders gathered Tuesday to discuss a future vision for the city of Grand Rapids.

The Grand Rapids Chamber hosted national and local thought leaders for the Grand Rapids Policy Conference at the J.W. Marriott.

The Grand Rapids Policy Conference at the J.W. Marriott on Aug. 16, 2022.

“We have a really big opportunity here that includes everything from how our local governments are spending their American Rescue Plan dollars, a once in a generation or lifetime opportunity to invest these funds, to how we can create more trust in public safety with our city manager and police chief. We’re going to have the mayor talk about what she’s excited about,” said Joshua Lunger, the vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber. “We’ve gotten here, but what’s next for us? How do we set the stage for continued growth and building upon our success and maybe addressing areas where we’ve fallen short?”

Lunger said they’ve noticed an increased lack of participation from the community and they’re hoping the conference will educate people about their role in bettering the community and opportunities available to them. 

The topics discussed at the event included the need for affordable housing. Advocates say there are several thousand rental units and hundreds of for sale units still needed.

“Housing is really what I consider to be a social determinant of health. We know that the social determinants really impact health outcomes like life expectancy and quality of life even more so than medical care,” said Dr. Matt Biersack, the president of Trinity Health Saint Mary’s.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom and City Manager Mark Washington also spoke about public safety. Winstrom mentioned programs already in place to improve community safety, like DICE. He also spoke about the need for collaboration with clinical professionals and resources to stop the cycles of crime.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said public safety has also been a concern for her.

“We’ve seen an uptick in crime dating back to 2020. The increase in gun violence is very concerning. We need to make sure that Grand Rapids is a safe place for everyone regardless of where you live in this city,” said Bliss. 

Leaders said development can help move the city forward. Tom Welch, the president of Fifth Third Bank and the co-chair of Grand Action 2.0, said he’s excited about transformative projects like the amphitheater planned for 201 Market Ave. in downtown Grand Rapids. He said it will lead to more housing, green space and community access to the river.

“Just this one piece will unlock all kinds of development. It’ll create better access to the river for all. It’ll create much more connectivity with the neighborhoods that are around there and really create that river for all that I think we’re all after,” said Welch.

The Grand Rapids Chamber says Tuesday was just a first step. They plan to continue the conversation with local, state and national thought leaders over the next few months.