Transit For Proposed Wildlife Park?

July 16, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — In an effort to get all their ducks in a row for the Kent County Wildlife Park millage campaign, the county and Zoological Society have investigated the potential for public transportation services to the proposed site of a new zoo.

On Aug. 3 county residents will be asked to approve a 0.55-mill increase for development of a 165-acre wildlife park in Grand Rapids Township behind the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park on the East Beltline.

The site, currently home to Grand Rapids Golf Club, is roughly bordered by Leonard Street on the north, Bradford Street on the south, Crahen Avenue on the east and abuts the Meijer Gardens property on the west.

Local businessman and philanthropist Fred Meijer has offered to donate the property for a wildlife park and has further pledged to match up to $25 million of what the Zoological Society can raise for the park. The private fund raising goal is $50 million.

The 0.55-mill increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $27.50 a year and the owner of a $200,000 home $52 a year.

According to Friends of the Kent County Wildlife Park, the project has been criticized by some due to the lack of available public transportation to the site.

Grand Rapids Township is not a member of the Interurban Transit Partnership transit authority so it’s not included in The Rapid bus system’s six-city coverage area. The Rapid’s service area comprises about 452 square miles and has an estimated population of 420,000.

Residents of the six cities in the ITP — Grand Rapids, Walker, Grandville, East Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood — support the system through their tax dollars by way of a 0.95 millage.

In a June 18 letter to David Morren, chairman of the Kent County Board of Commissioners, The Rapid’s director of development, Jim Fetzer, said that any services The Rapid provides outside its six-city service area have to be charged to the contracting agency on a per-hour basis because of the way The Rapid is funded.

The Rapid staff looked into the possibility of transportation service to the proposed park and talked with Meijer Gardens officials to gauge their interest, as well. Fetzer said Meijer Gardens was interested in possible transportation service but could not commit to any funding at this time. However, officials want to discuss the possibility further, he noted.

Fetzer pointed out that the closest route operating near the proposed park site, East Leonard Route 15, terminates at Knapp Street and the East Beltline.

The Rapid suggested that Route 15 could depart from the area of the Meijer store on Knapp and travel south on the East Beltline to the Gardens entrance; after exiting the Gardens it could travel north on East Beltline and east on Leonard to the wildlife park. The proposed route would depart the park traveling west on Leonard, then north on East Beltline back to the Meijer store on Knapp.

Under the proposal, service frequency would be every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 45 minutes on weekends and the service would operate from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, and 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Since Route 15 doesn’t operate on Sunday, The Rapid proposed Sunday service to the Gardens and Wildlife Park via I-96 from the Rapid Central Station in downtown Grand Rapids.

Fetzer told Morren that the hours of service could be altered as needed and that costs would vary if the hours were adjusted.

Fetzer said service to the Wildlife Park, minus the participation of Meijer Gardens, would cost $86,075 based on The Rapid’s fiscal year 2005 estimated operating costs. If service were to be provided to the Gardens, as well, the total cost would be $108,552 annually. Of that amount, the Gardens’ cost would be $49,780 and the wildlife park’s cost would be $58,771. Quoted rates include paratransit services for disabled persons.

If public transportation can’t be worked out with The Rapid, the Zoological Society and the county have vowed to work with private organizations to develop a shuttle system that connects to The Rapid’s route closest to the park.

Should Kent County voters approve the special millage, the first phase of the park — the Tundra, Great Northern Forest, Tropical Forest and Grasslands biomes exhibits — would open in spring 2009.    

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