Riverfront Project A Blank Slate

March 31, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — As it turns out, there was very little to keep secret about the downtown riverfront "mystery project" that has fueled wild speculation throughout the region.

Now revealed as the RiverGrand Project, a concept led by Atlanta businessman Duane Faust, the development is, at this early stage, little more than a land assemblage — with the potential to generate billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs, but with absolutely no guarantees.

"The thought in my mind is to create an opportunity, or stage if you will, where others can come and perform," Faust said. "Once the opportunity has been constructed, which is really just the land itself … it becomes an attractive opportunity that developers would love to be involved with."

These may be national developers that specialize in entertainment, residential and housing infrastructure, retail or hotels. Likely tenants would include Fortune 500 companies, national chains and entertainment conglomerates. Faust said technology companies have expressed a particular interest in the area.

"It's easy to sell Grand Rapids," he said. "The dynamics taking place here have created a successful synergy for this to happen."

He cited the billion dollars worth of construction over the past decade in the downtown area, the arena and convention center, as well as the growing life sciences assets on

Michigan Street

Faust, who was first introduced to the area by Grand Rapids native Delain Roberts, today a Los Angeles record executive, is the founder of ESNA Corp., a mortgage and real estate firm with offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Faust quickly noticed the unsung potential of the region for a "world-class development."

"We saw a lot of infrastructure already on the water and thought it would be nice to extend that south," he said. "Essentially, we put together a strategy and set out on a land assemblage."

Faust is far from the first entrepreneur with plans for the 16 acres of city-owned land at

201 Market Ave. SW
, commonly known as the Public Works Island. But he does appear to be the first to incorporate the surrounding neighborhood into his plans.

A 22-page prospectus written in 2005 detailed a 41-acre block with 1,500 new residential units, one million square feet of retail and a 2,500-seat theater, among other entertainment venues. The boundaries of this development would include nearly all property from U.S. 131 south to

Wealthy Street
and from the river east to
Grandville Avenue

While Faust said this plan reflects his intentions, everything is dependent upon the partners he enlists.

"When you talk about the actual details of who is going to occupy these, we're leaving it open for other people to get involved," he said. "We want to create a general venue and then others come in with the detail."

He explained that the secrecy behind the project was not by any malicious design, but deemed necessary until the development partners and subsequent financing were in place. Local residents will also have a chance to express their views, he said.

Several insiders were surprised to learn that Faust — with no development experience — was the driving force behind the project, when he was exposed by media reports last week (see related story).

Don Hunt, of Lambert Edwards & Associates, the public relations firm engaged by ESNA, did dispel the "10,000 jobs" statement often connected with the development. He said the development team had no idea where the number came from.    

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