Grand Rapids: Second To None

When people think of Michigan, they immediately think of Detroit; you know, the Tigers, the Pistons, the Red Wings. There is however another town about three hours west of Detroit that, while not nearly as large, certainly gives a different perspective into what Michigan is all about. That town is Grand Rapids.

As the state’s second largest city, Grand Rapids, keeping things in a sports perspective for a moment, is home to the Single “A” West Michigan Whitecaps baseball team (a Detroit Tigers affiliate), the Arena Football League’s Grand Rapids Rampage and the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team (a Detroit Red Wings affiliate). At one point, Grand Rapids was also home to the CBA’s Grand Rapids Hoops basketball team before they moved to Muskegon, a city that hugs the western side of the state.

Though sports is certainly a large part of what makes Grand Rapids number one in the minds of its residents, there are a lot of other things that make the nearly two hundred thousand residents hang around.

Though furniture is no longer what it once was in Grand Rapids, the former “Furniture City,” still maintains the world headquarters of Steelcase, the largest office manufacturer in the world.

Grand Rapids and its suburbs are also home to Alticor, formerly known as Amway, the global manufacturing and distribution company. Alticor’s founders, Rich DeVos and the late Jay Van Andel have contributed millions to the betterment of the city, funding the DeVos Children’s Hospital, the Van Andel Arena (where the Rampage and Griffins play) and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, a four star, four diamond hotel and restaurant complex to name a few. Alticor is additionally in the process of adding another feather in its cap by starting construction on a new Marriott across the street from the Grand Plaza, and Dick DeVos, eldest son of Rich, is running for governor in the upcoming election.

Grand Rapids has a rich history in education, as evidenced by the numerous colleges and universities that sparkle the landscape of this marvelous town. Grand Valley State University, Davenport University, Western Michigan University and even Michigan State University and Ferris State are either headquartered here or have satellite locations, serving the thousands of students majoring in everything from business to medicine to art. If you want an education or an advanced degree,

Grand Rapids is most certainly the place to get it.

Grand Rapids boasts three TV stations and numerous radio stations reaching the viewing or listening audience as far south as St. Joseph to as far north as Cadillac and as far east as Lansing. If you are looking for country music, rock, hip-hop or news and talk, Grand Rapids provides it in a way that truly amazes the senses. Add to that the Grand Rapids Press, the city newspaper, and you have well rounded coverage of both local and national issues that affect us all on a daily basis.

The nightlife in Grand Rapids rivals larger towns, its four star restaurants, eclectic ethnic eateries and large dance clubs are certainly enough to keep your stomach filled and your feet dancing well into the wee hours. If theatre is your game, the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, the Actors Theatre or the Circle Theatre (with seating in the round) is the place to see original plays by homegrown talent in comfort and style. If concerts are your bag, nationally recognized names such as Bruce Springsteen, Shania Twain and Aerosmith have graced the stages of the Van Andel Arena more than once, and the arena’s docket for 2006 promises to be just as exciting. On the other hand, if the symphony is more your speed, the Grand Rapids Symphony plays to sellout crowds in DeVos Hall, with Christmas being the largest draw.

The kids would certainly love a visit to Grand Rapids. The John Ball Park Zoo is one of the most diverse zoos in the state, with animals from all around the world living in a veritable paradise that attracts even the out-of-staters. The Children’s Museum in downtown Grand Rapids, a three story playhouse for kids of all ages, regularly attracts such familiar friends as Arthur, Elmo and a host of other names familiar only to those who take tiny replicas of such friends to bed each night.

Michigan is known as a state that is conducive to the many outdoors activities, and Grand Rapids is a home base for a lot of them. The Grand River, a haven for salmon and other fishermen, splits the city in two, stretching its majestic flow from Lake Michigan to Jackson and beyond. When it (mostly) freezes over during the winter months, ice fishermen can be seen dotting the frozen water like freckles on a redhead.

Grand Rapids also boasts two ski hills, Cannonsburg and Pando, and both have provided winter entertainment for years for the many who live here. Add to that the Rosa Parks Skating Rink downtown and you’ll quickly lose the need to hibernate when the mercury drops below freezing.

If your wife is anything like mine, shopping is the key to what makes a city great, and Grand Rapids has some of the best shopping this side of Chicago. Two major malls, Woodland Mall and Rivertown Parkway, are the place where you can find everything for that special person in your life, ranging from lingerie from Victoria’s Secret to upscale designer clothing from Sears, Younkers and JC Penney (and others) to toys from Toys-R-Us to books from Barnes and Noble and Waldenbooks.

Rivertown Parkway even has a carousel, a large movie theatre and a NASCAR simulation store, all of which has enticed a curious shopper more than once.

Grand Rapids holds a special place in the geography of the Midwest in that it is centrally located between Chicago and Detroit, both a three hour drive away. If in the off-chance you can’t find what you are looking for here, just hop in the car (or the train) and in the blink of an eye you’ll be where the skyscrapers truly scrape and the action is even more intense.Grand Rapids, Michigan, a growing town rich in history and pride, is one place you should be sure to visit if your travels ever land you in the “Wolverine State.” Michigan is certainly Detroit, but it is also Grand Rapids, and for those who have called this pleasant city home, there is really only one number one, and that is here.

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