County Snags More Land For Millennium Park

May 22, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County has half of the land needed for Millennium Park under its control, as commissioners recently bought another 11 acres for the project from four property owners for $811,000.

Kent County Vice Chairman David Morren said the latest transaction means the county now has slightly more than half of the park’s 1,500 acres under its ownership or under an option. That news was especially pleasing to Kent County Chairman Steve Heacock, who made parkland development one of his top two priorities this year.

“I will be asking the commission to finalize funding for the remainder of the park in the year 2001. It is my hope that we can have all funding and land purchases solidified by year-end,” said Heacock last month.

The county set aside $3 million to purchase land for Millennium Park two years ago, but more money will be needed to buy the remaining properties. Heacock is putting together a task force headed by Morren to look into park development, and not just for Millennium Park. The 700-acre Lowell Township Park is on his priority list, as is 209 acres near the Thornapple River.

“I will also be appointing a task force to work with the road commission on two related issues: the possibility of a dedicated millage to provide reliable and permanent funding for parks and the governance of the county park system,” said Heacock.

“While we have been blessed with surpluses over the past couple years, I fear that we cannot depend on them in the long term,” he added. “I believe that a land acquisition and development program is clearly a long-term project deserving of permanent funding.”

Millennium Park will extend from John Ball Park in Grand Rapids west to Johnson Park in Walker, crossing over into Grandville and Wyoming along the way. It will take about 10 years and $20 million to build the park, which will include playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, a beach and boat launches.

The project is being done as a partnership between the county and a private sector group led by Universal Forest Products Chairman Peter Secchia, who has pledged up to $5 million for the park.

Heacock’s other priority for the county this year is to find a way to provide better health care for minorities and the working poor, two groups that have higher rates of infant mortality and tuberculosis, heart disease and cancer deaths than the average white resident

“I will be appointing the ‘Kent County Task Force on Healthcare for People of Color’ to examine the issue, determine what the county is doing to resolve existing barriers and to develop proposals for county action,” said Heacock, who also is vice president of development and general counsel for Priority Health, a managed care company.

Heacock said that invitations to join the health care task force would be going out soon.

“I hope that CEOs of local hospitals, health plans and leaders within the physician and minority communities will work with the county on this important task.”

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