Brewery Vivant’s Pothole Stout began as more of a joke about the seemingly ever-proliferating and entirely unavoidable potholes that freckle Grand Rapids roads.
It has since become the symbol of an effort to mobilize the public to speak up about how to get them fixed. On Monday, citizens and representatives of Grand Rapids gathered at Vivant to discuss a possible solution to city’s potholes, which will be on the ballot on May 6.
The meeting took place in the brewery portion of the building. Grand Rapids City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss took the podium first to discuss the Fix Our GR Roads initiative, which seeks to extend the current income tax rates in Grand Rapids for 15 years and dedicate those funds to improving Grand Rapids streets and sidewalks. Bliss was followed by Campaign Committee Member Rick Treur, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Baker, MDOT Director Kirk Steudle, State Representative Brandon Dillon and finally Brewery Vivant Owner Jason Spaulding. Everyone spoke to the necessity of street improvement, and the importance of achieving funding on a local level.
MDOT Communications Representative John Richard remarked that federal funding for road repair and improvement has been falling steadily over the past few years.
“We’ve lost $100 million in federal funding each year,” Richard said. “We’re dead last in the country in spending on road repair.”
As a result, local initiatives to achieve funding are essential for road repairs to move forward. For these initiatives to take effect, they need adequate support from the community. This is where the captive audience a brewery offers comes in.
Spaulding professed that he generally tries to avoid politics, but said he recognized the need to get involved in issues that have a direct impact on the citizenry. He cited the importance of beer tourism to the Grand Rapids economy, and noted that for tourists to have to drive on roads filled with potholes is “embarrassing” to the Grand Rapids community. As a result, Brewery Vivant offered its support to the Fix Our GR Roads initiative, serving as a venue for a meeting that attracted an audience of around 50 people.
“We have to find our own solutions to our own problems,” Spaulding said.
The meeting attracted a wide range of individuals of all ages who expressed concern for the state of Grand Rapids roads, as well as interest in the brewery’s Pothole Stout. Citizens Mike Kolehouse and Jeff Winston attended the meeting to express their support for the initiative.
“We came for good beer and good roads,” Winston said.
Both Winston and Kolehouse remarked that the brewery offered an agreeable environment for discussion of social issues.
“The general clientele of a brewery is more socially active,” Winston said.
Kolehouse commented that he saw the Brewery Vivant’s engagement in a civic issue as part of an emerging theme in brewery culture, citing Grand Rapids Brewing Company’s “No Fr@cking Way” initiative for clean beer that occurred earlier in April.
Ultimately, the pothole problem was presented as one that affects everyone and that requires citizen support to be addressed.
“This is an important issue across the board,” said Bliss. “Everyone is driving on the streets. We are hopeful that people are willing to give to fix them.”
To support the campaign, Brewery Vivant will be donating $1 for every pint of Pothole Stout sold between now and May 4. Citizens can vote on the proposal during the May 6 elections.