As the sun sits high in the sky, radiating down on the blacktop of 28th Street, hundreds of thousands of people bustle up and down the road taking in the sights. More than 15,000 cars waxed, shined, and ready for primetime cover the street and parking lots as spectators take in the grandeur of these classic beauties.
For the past 11 years, the 28th Street Metro Cruise has brought together generations of people by allowing them to a trip through memory lane by cruising down 28th Street in a classic car. While the event is now ingrained into the fabric of 28th Street and the communities that participate, not everyone was initially onboard.
“When the idea [for the Metro Cruise] came up, I was thinking, ‘this is not going to work,’” Bob O’Callaghan said with a laugh. Callahan, who now serves as the president of the Wyoming-Kentwood Chamber of Commerce, was a Chamber board member during the creation of Metro Cruise. “But I turned out to be wrong.”
With the completion of the M-6 highway in 2004, there was concern that traffic would dissipate from 28th Street and turn a street that was once the second busiest in Michigan into an afterthought. The Wyoming-Kentwood Chamber of Commerce set out to find a way to continue to drive traffic down 28th Street and to the local businesses in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood. The Chamber saw a problem, and the solution would hinge on the local car culture.
“The idea for the Metro Cruise came from the Woodward Dream Cruise” said Charlie Steen, one of the main think tanks behind Metro Cruise. “We were looking for promotion for 28th Street and the businesses on the strip, and we felt it was an opportunity for merchants to benefit from the event.”
Steen, the former Economic Development Director for the City of Wyoming, approached then Chamber President John Crawford with the idea for the Metro Cruise. With the help of Dan Van Dyke from Fruit Basket Flowerland and Todd Duncan from Consumers Energy, the Chamber went all in to make the event a reality.
“We were very fortunate with the help of the city mayors, councils and governments, and the Chamber of Commerce,” said Steen. “We had to work with Wyoming, Kentwood, Grandville, Grand Rapids, and Cascade Township to make the Metro Cruise a reality.”
With everyone on board, it came down to one thing: Would anyone show up?
“During the early planning stages for year one, we actually hoped that we might get a couple of thousand people to show up and hoped to have a couple hundred cars,” stated Todd Duncan in an interview in 2014 reflecting back on the 10th Anniversary of Metro Cruise.
Turns out, the initial estimates didn’t quite comprehend West Michigan’s love for cars. The Metro Cruise went live in 2005 and 85,000 people came to see what it was all about.
“Without the car crazies from West Michigan, the Metro Cruise wouldn’t happen,” said Steen.
While the participation was better than expected, and getting the inaugural event to make it from concept to reality was a success in itself, the first year of Metro Cruise didn’t accomplish its primary task.
“It was not a success with the Chamber, we lost money that first year,” explained O’Callaghan. “We thought we’d go in all the way with 16 different locations around 28th Street. It was too much and we scaled it back the second year with the Chamber staying in and focusing on Roger’s Plaza.”
The Chamber saw the potential of Metro Cruise, and instead of dumping the idea after losing money in year one, they adapted and continued to build the event. Since 2005, Metro Cruise has grown from 85,000 participants to more than 250,000, and well over 15,000 vehicles as well. The increase in event traffic has led directly to an influx in commerce for the local businesses.
“The Chamber did a survey three years ago and found out that $3.3 million was spent on the 28th Street corridor on the weekend of Metro Cruise,” said O’Callaghan. “It’s doing what it’s supposed to do as far as the financial side and the awareness.”
As the cruise prepares for its 12th year, car lovers from all over the state, and the country, will pour onto 28th Street to enjoy automobiles from generation to generation.
Make sure to check out the “DreamWheels” show which will be broadcasting live Saturday, Aug. 27 from 6 – 7:30 p.m. at Pal’s Diner, 6503 28th St. SE, and Rogers Plaza, 972 28th St. SW. The show will air Saturday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. on WKTV Channel 25.