Grand Rapids De-Briefing Meeting

January 13, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Grand Rapids Tour Debrief and Discussion

In Attendance:
Joan Kagan, Herbie Flores, John Davis, Rick Debonis, Ron Ancrum, Marsha Montori, Paul Robbins, Patricia Canavan, Tim Brennan, Erica Broman, Lora Wondolowski, Melinda Graulau, Nancy Reiche, Richard Walker, Dianne Doherty, Ellen Freyman, Tim Allen, Ira Rubenzahl, Charles Rucks, Henry Thomas, Bill Ward, Helen Caulton-Harris, Al Griggs, Jeff Fialky, Steve Huntley, Allan Blair, Chris Sikes, Nick Fyntrilakis, Steve Bradley, Mary Walachy, Kevin Kennedy, Denise Jordan, Dora Robinson, Mayor Domenic Sarno, Vanessa Otero, Sarah Page, Glenn Davis, Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew Nutt, Kate Putnam, Jeff Ciuffreda, Roberto Nieves, Patrick Leary, Glen Welch, Ashley Pereira, Trevis Wray.  


Agenda set forth by Ron Ancrum to cover: Comments on the organization of the City-to-City trip and any improvements thereto; Comments on lessons learned; Comments from Nick Fyntrilakis on Develop Springfield; Sharing of ideas and projects that may be developed as a result of the trip; and next steps.


Mayor Sarno offered a sincere thank you for the group’s collaborative efforts and the resulting synergy. He is pleased with the work of City-to-City to date. 

Comments on the Organization of the City-to-City Trip and Any Improvements

Ron Ancrum voiced concerns around having an extremely compact schedule. 
Paul Robbins is in support of having more time to consume more of the everyday life of the site city. He described it as more time to “touch and feel”. 
Sarah Page suggested allowing more time as an option for those who desire it. 
Steve Huntley echoed this, by mentioning more opportunity for “intellectual recreation”, such as museum visits. 
Ron Ancrum agreed that a visit to the Grand Rapids B.O.B. (Big Old Building) would have been nice. 
Marsha Montori suggested the on-site debriefing session, which occurred in Grand Rapids, should have been recorded. There was a level of openness and intimacy and sharing that does not typically occur during home-based meetings. 
Ron Ancrum agreed and mentioned that a meeting note taker was not present during that session. It is important to capture that type of energy and idea sharing while it's fresh.
Allan Blair reminded the group of the difficulties of scheduling and that maintaining a tight conference schedule would better benefit the group because more conflicts would occur if the conference were to stretch beyond its current length.
Ron Ancrum offered an acknowledgment to Trevis Wray for work performed around the logistics of the conference and tour. 

Comments on Lessons Learned

Chris Sikes mentioned the studies that are commissioned prior to breaking ground for development. There were numerous studies performed in Grand Rapids to guide the development. He questioned the cost of such studies, the importance of having them done, and ways of prioritizing the findings thereof. How are we prioritizing in Springfield? 
Sarah Page shared her positive impressions of the stakeholders of Grand Rapids demonstrating a willingness to “imagine” and “find” the resources and funding to put plans into action.
Charles Rucks suggested there was a significantly higher level of planning, participation, and overall buy-in from stakeholders in the Grand Rapids community compared to Springfield. 
Steve Bradley expressed that although he did not go on the trip, he is impressed by what he has learned of concerning improvements around race and inclusion in Grand Rapids. 
Marsha Montori emphasized that the trip allowed for a much healthier than normal discussion around otherwise sensitive issues. She felt people opened up more than they would have at home.
John Davis and Paul Robbins have expressed a strong interest in continuing a dialogue around race. John feels it's important to lay a good foundation and pave the way for an Institute for Healing Racism. He would like to see the work done right, and not a reinvention of the wheel. 
Vanessa Otero commended any resultant work around race and inclusion, emphasizing the importance of open and honest dialogue. 
Allan Blair suggested the need for tolerance and patience. The improvements in Grand Rapids around race and inclusion appear to have taken 10 to 12 years to yield measurable results. 
Marsha Montori mentioned the sense of healing that was evident as a result of the revitalization of the neighborhood park where a tragedy once occurred. Apparently there was some type of shooting involving an area patrolman. 
Helen Caulton-Harris brought up the issue of classism, perhaps evidenced by the disproportionate percentage of children from more affluent families being privately educated, compared to the overwhelming majority of poor who populate the public school system. She mentioned how one woman referred to it as the “American Apartheid”. 
Dora Robinson was impressed by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s demonstrated understanding of the critical importance for racial inclusion, realizing it makes good business sense. Dora shared that she came away from this trip with a more realistic grasp of the time it takes to plan, implement and yield results in accordance with a greater plan for progress. She recalled feeling a bit more anxious following last year's trip. She is aware that many of the improvements in Grand Rapids are the results of long-term planning, up to 20 years, with a focus on business development.
Melinda Graulau asked whether or not the suburbs were hurting the city. How much urban created wealth is drawn out to the suburbs? Being a native of Michigan, she emphasized the need to connect with an urban hub. People identify with cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids, but people in Springfield’s surrounding towns do not necessarily identify with Springfield. 
Paul Robbins mentioned the billion-dollar investments made in downtown Grand Rapids in what is known as the “medical mile”. This is a clear and distinct draw for people, particularly professionals to the downtown area.
Charles Rucks reminded the group that public education is a problem for all urban areas. A distinct difference for Grand Rapids is that their school system is managed separately from city government. It has a separate tax structure and funding scheme. Charles also emphasized the medical school and research facility investments in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Comments from Nick Fyntrilakis on Develop Springfield

Nick Fyntrilakis offered some comments and some insight with respect to Develop Springfield. He suggested it was a defacto public-private partnership, as demonstrated by its linkages with the Springfield Redevelopment Authority. He recalled most of the successes in Grand Rapids were touted as having input from public and private sources. Develop Springfield has been heavily involved in post-tornado planning; intermediate “space and use” planning, as well as broader long-term “master planning”. An unveiling of the first draft of the master plan will be held on January 6th, 2012 at 6:30PM, at St. Anthony's on Island Pond Road. The final meeting, unveiling the finished plan draft, will be held on January 26th, 2012 at the same location. Input from City-to-City is highly encouraged.
Mary Walachy mentioned domains of the plan which included: social; cultural; educational; physical; organizational; and economic areas. She also mentioned the relevance of the kickoff event for Stand for Children, which was recently held at the Basketball Hall of Fame.  
Nick Fyntrilakis suggested that there is a clear priority for education, followed by public safety. He recommended visiting the website for more details. 

Sharing of Ideas and Projects that May be Developed as a Result of the Trip

Ron Ancrum polled the group for ideas on what activities they would like to engage in as a result of the trip. 
Steve Bradley declared that Baystate Medical Center was invested in this work. Steve pledged $200,000 on behalf of Baystate, open to a match by any other partners, with an emphasis on work of the prior mentioned Institute for Healing Racism. 
John Davis mentioned the importance of making Springfield an attraction for the region. Springfield should be the heart of the Pioneer Valley. 
Ira Rubenzahl expressed that he expected to witness more economic dislocation by virtue of Grand Rapids being a Michigan city. Michigan, as a state, has suffered severe economic declines. Ira would like to explore opportunities around economic development, particularly in the wake of a loss of MA State subsidization of the business incubator at STCC’s Technology Park. He will explore a partnership with UMass. 
Ron Ancrum suggested that Grand Rapids was doing something better with higher education involvement than Springfield seems to muster. 
Ira Rubenzahl agreed that collective efforts from area colleges was in order but prior to engaging in any substantive planning, a collective discussion with the new Springfield school superintendent would be necessary. Ira suggested many ideas could result such as a summer camp with an emphasis on transition to college. 
Chris Sikes expressed an interest in creating more jobs for the region. He would like to address the lack of expertise of area businesses, and their difficulty in growing. He hopes to identify potential high-growth businesses. His organization has hired Terry Anderson of Holyoke to work on the plan.
Mary Walachy firmly believes the Springfield Schools superintendent hire will be the most important hire for the city. This group (City-to-City) should pay close attention, although the process is in its early stages, and an outside consultant has been hired to explore the issue. 
Steve Huntley referred to investments and improvements made in Grand Rapids. The infrastructural improvements are evident, but the question remained, what has been the impact on the poor?  He would like to look into the linkages to entry-level employment opportunities. 
Vanessa Otero commented on racial diversity in entry-level employment, particularly at the MM Center. 
Sarah Page expressed an interest in commercial real estate developments. She noticed developments on the outskirts of urban areas facilitated interaction between otherwise economically diverse areas. This apparently helps facilitate less segregation. Despite appearances, the real estate in Grand Rapids is affordable. Mixed market rate and low-income housing appear to work well in downtown Grand Rapids.   
Henry Thomas pointed out that Grand Rapids was good at identifying its assets and opportunities. It understood how to leverage resources and accomplish a relatively good amount of development in a 7 to 8 year time span. He suggested participants of City-to-City, particularly those seated at the table today, can help leverage resources that might otherwise be overlooked. He reminded the group of his Board seat at UMass and encouraged the group to use him to the advantage of the city. He agreed that, of the cities visited by the group to date, public education has been a bit of an embarrassment. It has been demonstrated that school districts cannot do it alone. He intends to maintain a focus on STEM enrichment (science, technology, engineering, and math). The Urban League of Springfield will host Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) at its March 6th, 2012 Annual Meeting Dinner. 
Carlos Gonzalez says his organization will maintain a focus on micro-entrepreneurship supported by financial literacy and asset management training programs. He described the year 2012 to be a year of the partnership and leveraging opportunities.
Tim Allen mentioned the importance of sharing planning information, pointing out the sense that stakeholders in Grand Rapids knew what the planning entailed. Tim also expressed concerns around public education, particularly preschool education. He emphasized a tie-in to ongoing initiatives such as Pre-school Education for All, and Cherish Every Child. To that point Ron Ancrum suggested visiting   
John Davis emphasized the need for a demand by the community. The general public, particularly parents of school-aged children. 
Bill Ward stated he does not have funds to offer at this time but recognizes the enormous opportunities to align community assets. On a national scale, Massachusetts is the leading state in educational achievement, but statewide has pockets of severe underperformance. He mentioned “Race to the Top” and the fact that there should be a community based, community driven push for universal pre-K. He suggested Massachusetts is the poster-child for income and educational gaps. He echoed what Henry Thomas said with respect to resource leveraging and alignment. 
Steve Bradley pointed out the disparities that are consistently concentrated along Brown and Black racial lines. 

Next Steps

Ron Ancrum offered the group next steps, including a one-day trip in the Spring to New Haven, Connecticut. A poll of the group indicates April will be the best month to attempt to accomplish this. New Haven, Connecticut has apparently demonstrated a number of improvements particularly around education. The one-day trip will have a very specific focus and will be organized as a City-to-City retreat.
Ron also mentioned some preliminary discussions with respect to the Fall 2012 City-to-City tour. The intent is to visit a city with a significant Puerto Rican population. One example would be the Tampa, Florida / St. Petersburg, Florida area. City-to-City will continue to work with the Boston Federal Reserve Bank for further research and support. 
Ron also suggested City-to-City will participate with Develop Springfield and attend its respective meetings.
City-to-City encourages efforts toward the development of the Institute for Healing Racism, led by John Davis and Steve Bradley.
Richard Walker shared that he was impressed by the level of participation in today's meeting. The fact that every seat is full is a great sign. Richard emphasized the importance of the group holding itself accountable for pledged or intended projects and outcomes. For instance, there was supposed to be some asset mapping performed as a result of the 2010 tour. Ron pointed out that there will be follow-up on this piece. That work was originally the responsibility of a member of the group that has since relocated (John Judge). City-to-City will look to resume asset mapping through Glenn Davis and Develop Springfield. 
Paul Robbins mentioned he was contacted by Governance Magazine for information about City-to-City. Paul, Ron and Vanessa were interviewed on WGBY’s Connecting Point. The date the segment is to be broadcast is unknown. 
In response to concerns that the group lacked representation from the Springfield School Department, Ron pointed out that Springfield School Committee member Norman Roldan was a member of City-to-City, traveled with the group to Grand Rapids, but was unavailable for today's meeting. 
Herbie Flores informed the group to be on the lookout for some new construction projects that he will be commencing in 2012. He welcomed feedback from the group. 

Tags: Grand Rapids Develop Springfield New Haven Mayor Sarno Institute for Healing Racism Baystate Medical Center Pre-school Education for All Cherish Every Child

Paul Robbins


Paul Robbins of Paul Robbins Associates-Strategic Communications is managing the City2City Pioneer Valley blog. The intent is solely to provide information about the initiative and inform those interested about ongoing City2City initiatives. Paul is a member of the City2City Greater Springfield planning committee and participated in the first trip to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, North Carolina. He will post content generated by City2City participants, provide updates on related initiatives and publish input from those interested in the initiative. For those wishing to provide content, Paul can be reached at