GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — From a 12,000-seat amphitheater to a professional soccer stadium to helping Grand Rapids WhiteWater transform the Grand River into a destination spot, Kara Wood will have a lot on her plate when she takes over Grand Action 2.0.
“They’re all transformative projects. Certainly, the future vision is for more of that type of work to take the city to the next level,” said Kara Wood, who will become Grand Action 2.0’s executive director July 5.
Wood said she wasn’t interested in leaving her last job as associate vice president for community partnerships at Western Michigan University. But when longtime Grand Action Executive Director Jon Nunn announced his retirement after nearly three decades with the organization that works to develop Grand Rapids, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“This has a personal and a professional approach for me,” Wood said. “I’ve lived in downtown for 15 years and nothing would make me happier that to take the city to the next level.”
When you think of Grand Action, you think of the projects like Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and the Medical Mile. You also think of the names DeVos, Van Andel, Frey — the people with the vision early on. The executive director is in charge of turning those visions into a reality.
“Certainly, these are complex public-private partnerships that they are looking to execute. But with my background, my relationships in this community and my deep commitment to this community personally, we’ll hopefully launch these projects into fruition,” Wood said.
Top of the to-do list is the 201 Market site. Grand Action 2.0’s vision is to move the salt piles and service vehicles that currently occupy the city public service yard and put a 31-acre riverfront development anchored by a $116 million amphitheater at the site.
Wood said the experience she gained and the relationships she developed during her 12 years with the city’s economic development department will help move that and other Grand Action projects along.
“I think it makes it a little easier,” she said. “But don’t get me wrong, these are really challenging projects. And certainly, the transformational nature of these projects will make it a little bit tougher. But with the right relationships in place already, it makes that transition a lot easier.”
There’s more to the job then making sure projects get done. The original Grand Action was sometimes criticized for focusing on projects that only benefit downtown Grand Rapids. Grand Action 2.0 has pledged to make sure the benefits of future projects are spread across the city. The organization says it is committed to equity and inclusion. Some of that commitment is reflected in a more diverse board of directors.
“With the different board in place at Grand Action, I’m excited about the diverse participation around the table and the voices that are being heard,” Wood said. “It speaks to the changing nature of this community and wanting to serve that community specifically. So I think that’s what’s exciting about this opportunity and the transformational nature of these projects.”