DDA Turns Green

November 5, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Not being green with envy, the Downtown Development Authority recently decided to share its greenbacks with the city’s planning and parks departments and join the Green Grand Rapids program.

In a nutshell, Green GR is the green-space portion of the city’s Master Plan, and two of its goals are to increase the number of parks in the city by at least four and make those lands more accessible to more residents and visitors.

So where does the DDA fit in? The DDA is responsible for the public portion of the riverfront property that sits in its district and for public access to those parcels.

Board members had set aside $125,000 for two projects that would help the DDA fulfill its riverfront responsibilities. One is a $75,000 Grand River restoration project to make the waterway more attractive. The other is a $50,000 expansion of the city’s riverwalk, work that would push the walkway south of Fulton Street.

Instead of going it alone, DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler suggested that the board join the broader citywide effort and dedicate its funding to that program. DDA members agreed that working with the planning and parks departments was the right strategy to take, so they green-lighted up to $125,000 to the program.

“Green Grand Rapids connects all of those dots and leads to downtown,” said Suzanne Schulz, city planning director.

“All of those things are connected. There are a lot of different issues that need to be examined. We have to look at how all the neighborhoods and business districts relate to downtown,” added Schulz.

A 2002 inventory of city-owned parks showed there were 1,628 acres of parkland within the city limits and another 388 acres outside of those limits. But according to the National Recreation and Park Association, Grand Rapids needs a minimum of an additional 500 acres of parkland for a city its size. More parks would raise the quality of life and could attract more businesses and workers to the city.

“It’s more of a system-wide view to look at how we can connect things,” said Schulz.

Schulz said both banks of the riverfront properties south of Fulton Street are important pieces of that system-wide view, a sector that includes the city-owned Public Works Island at 201 Market Ave. SW. The city tried to sell the 16 acres on the river’s east bank but couldn’t find an acceptable buyer. That parcel was the key property in last year’s “Mystery Development,” a proposed multi-billion dollar project that never materialized.

But before the DDA committed its funds to Green GR, Mayor George Heartwell said he had to be convinced the program needed the entire amount because a budget hasn’t been established for the effort yet.

Schulz said the city is going to request grants from the state Department of Natural Resources and area foundations, and once the applications are filled out, she would have a better idea of what the spending plan would be. She said getting the DDA to pledge up to $125,000 to the program would help the city get those grant dollars.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great idea. I’m willing to commit today up to $125,000,” said the mayor. “Then we will get a chance to look at the memorandum of understanding and budget.”   

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