June 3, 2011 -- When Newsweek.com listed Grand Rapids, Mich., as one of America's top-10 dying cities, the community came together to show the world it is full of life.
Grand Rapids responded to the unflattering distinction with a 10-minute music video featuring 5,000 people set to Don McLean's song "American Pie."
"I took great exception to Newsweek's characterization of a dying city," Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said. "We're a city that's young, that's vibrant, that's alive, that's growing. It's a fun place to be."
The video, which was published on YouTube May 26, has nearly 1.9 million views. It is one continuous shot and features a little bit of everything. There are fire trucks, police cars, cheerleaders, dancers, football players, politicians and news vans. There is even a wedding, a concert, a marching band and a helicopter.
"The idea of making an enormous promotional video for the city seemed like a real feel-good idea that could be a lot of fun," said Rob Bliss, creator and director of the video. "But really when Newsweek's article came out, that really lit the fire under my sponsors, the media, the government, citizens and even myself to really lock this down and get it done."
Bliss had previously organized other events for the community that included zombie walks, pillow fights and the longest water slide in the world. Heartwell trusted Bliss and was willing to do just about anything to make Bliss' vision a reality.
"We said, 'Rob, what do you need? We'll close the streets, we'll turn out the fire engines, the mayor will sing, whatever you need,'" Heartwell said. "And in fact, he needed all of that. ... The mayor has certain prerogatives and I exercised all the prerogatives in this case ... pulled out all the stops and the result was I believe well worth it."
Bliss and his team practiced for a month and a half leading up to the event, making sure no detail was overlooked.
"We only had this three and a half hour amount of time to get in and get the job done because we had to close all these streets so, of course, the clock was ticking on us," Bliss told ABC News.
The project cost about $40,000 and was financed entirely by local sponsors from the city of about 188,000 people, 40 miles east of Lake Michigan. Bliss said that none of the money went to advertising the event because local television and radio stations were willing to give it publicity.
"They really promoted it and they know it's generally some fun," Bliss said. "It's the idea itself that has to be pure and beautiful or interesting enough or exciting enough to bring people out."
While the video has been a resounding success for the community, Bliss said, change won't come overnight.
"I'm not expecting this to bring 10,000 new people to the city or something crazy, but it's a baby step and there are a lot of other organizations here taking those steps forward to make us a better and better city, and I'm just one of them," he said.
As for Mayor Heartwell, he is encouraging others to use their creativity to highlight Grand Rapids.
"My door is open for ideas like this one ... wild and crazy as they are, to highlight our city as the great, dynamic, vital community that it really is."