Money Tight For Turner Gateway

January 17, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The drive to turn Turner Avenue into a green gateway that will lead visitors to downtown has reached the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Advocates for the project met recently with MDOT Grand Region officials about the possibility of re-designing the near northwest side street, which sits a few blocks west of the Grand River.

“I think it was a pretty favorable meeting in the sense that they’re interested in seeing us develop this farther, and to see if and how they can support it,” said Rob McCarty, business district developer for the West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO).

“It was a positive meeting for the most part,” he added.

The Turner project is a beautification plan. The hope is to add greenery, plants and small parks to as many as 11 blocks of Turner Avenue that run along southbound U.S. 131. MDOT owns the rights-of-way adjacent to the expressway, property that runs from Richmond to Third streets on Turner that has been targeted for the project.

The next step is for WGNO to meet with the city and state and determine whether they should go after transportation enhancement grants to fund the project, the same type of grants that were used to revive North Monroe Avenue.

The cost to do the entire project has been estimated at $1.6 million, which works out to $150,000 per block. But with the state and the city facing a budget deficit, McCarty said the project could be reduced to fewer blocks for now, meaning less funding would be required.

“We’re going to meet again and figure out what is the best way to go after the funding. We’re waiting for some kind of nod from the city because we’re going to be responsible to find for the city 20 percent of the first phase cost,” he said.

Work on the first phase was initially to be done south from Leonard to Sixth. But that first stage could be cut back to Ninth Street because of the deficits the city and state are facing.

Supporters feel the project would help boost the improvement of residential blocks that line the west side of Turner, a southbound one-way street, and both sides of Broadway Avenue. They also feel that it would add a nice touch to the east edge of the West Leonard Business District, plus clear some of the traffic congestion that often plagues Pearl Street at U.S. 131.

The plan is to designate the Leonard Street U.S. 131 exit as the starting point of a route that would take visitors downtown. The exit actually puts travelers on Turner Street and visitors could use eastbound streets that cross Turner to reach sites downtown.

The project could take 10 years to complete, but McCarty hopes to cut that timetable in half. WGNO is hoping that area businesses help fund the construction and provide money to maintain the corridor once it is built.

Meijer Inc. Co-Chairman Hank Meijer has shown an interest in supporting the project, as have the Frey and Dyer-Ives foundations. Integrated Architecture Executive Vice President Michael Corby and AIA Grand Valley drew up the plans for the project.

If money can be found soon, work could start this summer.

“There has been, I guess, some raiding of the MDOT pool and that’s not helping,” said McCarty. “But I still feel good and our funders feel good.” 

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