About Us

History of Uptown

Since the early 1900’s the Uptown area has been host to four lively neighborhood business districts where residents, stagecoach travelers and streetcar visitors shopped, dined and enjoyed performances at the Pastime Vaudette (now the Wealthy Theatre) and the Half Way House on Cherry Street. By 1926 Highway M21 was a major travel route along East Fulton Street, connecting travelers from Holland to Port Huron. As traffic along the route increased, the district grew in popularity, supporting emerging businesses such as Van’s Pastry Shoppe, a neighborhood favorite to this day. Like other major urban areas across the country, Uptown began to show signs of decline in the 1970’s with businesses closing or relocating to seemingly more attractive suburbs. Many owner-occupied homes converted into rental units or fell into vacancy,storefronts emptied and crime rates rose.

In this environment, local stakeholders mobilized to strengthen business and neighborhood associations and breathe life back into these central-city districts. The South East Economic Development (SEED) was formed to save Wealthy Theatre and to encourage preservation of the buildings along the commercial corridors. Uptown saw a resurgence as a gathering place for artists, students and activists throughout the turn of the new century. Commercial buildings and historic homes were purchased and renovated, with new businesses and residents relocating to its attractive and affordable neighborhoods.

In the early 2000’s community stakeholders formed the Uptown Advisory Council to work on community improvement projects and to encourage public and private investment in the commercial corridors. Since 2003 the leaders in Uptown have worked cohesively on marketing, advertising, special events, way-finding signs, public infrastructure improvements and more. In 2004 Uptown was designated as one of the first Michigan Cool Cities Neighborhoods in Progress. In 2009, shortly after the State of Michigan passed enabling legislation, the City established Uptown as the first Corridor Improvement District (CID) in Grand Rapids, allowing the capture of a portion of its property tax dollars to be re-invested within its boundaries for public benefit. In 2013 following a petition and district-wide vote, the City created its first Business Improvement District (BID) in Uptown. The BID allows the city to levy a special assessment on commercial, industrial and government-owned properties and invest those dollars back into the district by way of marketing and branding, enhanced street-scape design and maintenance and economic development incentives.

Today Uptown consists of four central-city neighborhood business districts: Eastown, East Hills, East Fulton and Wealthy Street, that work together to promote constituent local businesses, to enhance public spaces, to attract and retain new investment and to engage business and property owners in local decision-making. The Uptown CID and BID Boards consist of two representatives per business district plus one City Commissioner and are supported by three active committees: Marketing, Design and Business Development. In late 2017 the City Commission approved the creation of a nonprofit organization called Uptown Grand Rapids Inc. to support the work of the CID, the BID and Uptown’s member business districts and surrounding neighborhoods: Midtown, Eastown, East Hills, Baxter and Fulton Heights. Uptown has been staffed by part-time Corridor and Marketing & Events Managers and additional contract staff, volunteers and interns as needed. With a steadily growing budget, skyrocketing property values, expanding community involvement and emerging city-wide support for creative entrepreneurial initiatives, Uptown is poised to engage in large-scale, meaningful projects and programs that could have far-reaching impact for residents, businesses and visitors.