Grand River receives DDA consideration

December 14, 2009
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The idea is to put the rapids back into the Grand.

The Downtown Development Authority agreed last week with that mission, which is part of the Green Grand Rapids plan, by setting aside up to $25,000 to cover half the cost to hire an engineering firm that specializes in restoring rivers and to produce a professional video that would raise the awareness of — and funds for — whitewater rafting on the Grand River.

“We want this to scream ‘nature.’ We want this to speak for itself. We want this to be Grand Rapids again,” said Chip Richards, co-founder with Chris Muller of Grand Rapids Whitewater.

“We have an industrial river running through a progressive town. We need to change that,” Richards added.

GR Whitewater wants to conduct an engineering report that would safely restore the Grand River to allow recreational activities, like whitewater rafting, on it. Richards and Muller are in the preliminary stage of putting the process together and aren’t sure how much a restoration project would ultimately cost and who would manage it after the work is done.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said findings from Green GR would tentatively place a cost between $3 million to $5 million. Richards said another city’s restoration effort cost $1.5 million, and the project has returned an economic impact to that city of $3.5 million to $5 million each year.

“This has to be a win environmentally and a win economically,” said Richards.

The DDA authorized up to $25,000 for the engineering study and video, but that money will only be awarded if GR Whitewater raises $25,000 for both efforts. Fowler also said he would have Fishbeck Thompson Carr & Huber, a local engineering firm, review the study.

The board also awarded FTCH $4,980 last week to look into creating a portage route around the 4th Street dam that would allow canoeists and kayakers to have access to the entire stretch of the Grand River within city limits. Fowler said he would like to have the work done by July when the Grand River Expedition is set to go downstream. The preliminary design has a target date of late February.

“Fishbeck is a very logical choice because they were part of Green Grand Rapids,” said Fowler, who added that the board wasn’t required to put the work up for bid.

City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz, who headed the two-year-long Green GR effort, gave the DDA last week a list of potential downtown projects that are tied to the greening of the city. Expanding recreation on the river and extending the riverwalk were two. Providing parking for bicycles and financially supporting a downtown farmers market that the Grand Action Committee is putting together were also on her list. So was planting and maintaining more trees in the district.

Schulz said downtown only has a “tree cover” of 4 percent; the Green GR goal is to have a “tree canopy” of 40 percent throughout the city.

“Right now, we have a 36 percent tree canopy (in the city). That equates to (a need for) 185,000 trees. So we have a long way to go,” she said.

Schulz said 80 public meetings were held over the last two years as part of the Green GR campaign, and she estimated that 1,800 residents participated in the effort to update the city’s Master Plan, which has led the city to apply for federal stimulus funds to continue the work. Schulz said her purpose was to create an environment that allows other groups to create an environment.

“Without people out there willing to do the work, my changing of ordinances isn’t as meaningful,” she said.

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