DDA engineers several fixes to downtown riverfront area

March 22, 2010
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The Downtown Development Authority has turned its attention to properties along the Grand River and to a street that leads to its east bank.

First off, the board is preparing to spend $350,000 to make repairs to the floodwalls and adjacent walkways in Ah-Nab-Awen Park, which runs along the river’s west bank from Bridge Street south to Pearl Street and includes the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

The plan also includes improving the park for events. The 4th of July celebration, Celebration on the Grand and a number of smaller events are staged in the park each year. The DDA has enlisted O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock & Associates, an urban design and land planning firm headquartered in Kalamazoo, to design the park’s repair and upgrade program.

Wes Steer, who heads OCBA’s Grand Rapids office, told the DDA that two changes need to be made to the park to make it friendlier for events. First, unloading equipment onto the stage has been a difficult task for event promoters; Steer said that adding a loading dock near the stage would solve that problem. Another change is setting up a sound system; Steer suggested putting up speaker towers on both sides of the bandshell.

Making improvements to Ah-Nab-Awen Park has been on the DDA’s to-do list for quite some time. The board has designated $200,000 for that purpose this fiscal year and another $150,000 for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The DDA will accept bids for the project this spring. The board hopes to begin the work July 5 and have it completed by Labor Day.

“It’s been in service for 30 years, and for all the rough use it’s had, it’s still in pretty good shape,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler of the park.

The DDA also has enlisted the city’s engineering department to inspect the riverfront walkway that stretches along the Grand River’s banks from Newberry Street south to Fulton Street. The idea is to not only make a list of the necessary repairs, but also make suggestions for preventive maintenance.

The walkway is susceptible to damage from ice and flooding, and some portions are especially vulnerable. Fowler said pedestrian safety is an issue along some sections. There are loose railings, corrosion and uneven walking surfaces. Vandalism has occurred along some portions.

“We want to make sure that we’ve got a durable, long-lasting repair,” said City Engineer Marc De Clercq.

De Clercq said his department would catalog and prioritize the problems, prepare the bid packages for repairs, and inspect the final work. The department will charge the DDA $25,500, but the board will only be billed when a construction contract is awarded. The DDA will pay the city’s engineering department 15 percent of each project’s cost until the $25,500 charge is met.

“If this (process) works, we may want to apply it to streetscapes,” said Fowler.

The trickiest of the three riverfront projects in which the DDA is involved is making pedestrian and streetscape improvements to Lyon Square, which runs west from Monroe Avenue to the east bank of the Grand. The board, the Convention and Arena Authority, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and The Windquest Group are involved. Normally, there aren’t three other stakeholders included in projects the DDA undertakes, so figuring out who pays for what might be a bit delicate.

“It’s a complicated project,” said Fowler.

Lyon Square is in the DDA’s district. The CAA is responsible for DeVos Place, and the Welsh Auditorium side of the convention center sits on the northwest portion of the square. The Amway Grand Plaza hotel runs along much of the square’s south side. The Windquest Group owns 201 Monroe Ave. NW and that building is on the northeast side of the square’s entrance.

In January, the DDA committed $10,000 to redesign the square. Concept Design Group is doing that work and the bill for it is supposed to be $40,000.

“The desire is to continue with the design,” said Fowler. “We don’t know our share (of the design cost) at this time.”

The DDA and other stakeholders selected Pioneer Construction Co. as the project’s management firm at a meeting held last month, without bidding the job. Pioneer will prepare the detailed cost estimates and then solicit bids for the work. “This is an incremental step,” said Fowler.

Exactly what has to be done to the square to make the desired improvements may be revealed as early as next month. But one necessary item on the list, at least for the DDA and the Amway Grand, is adding a snowmelt system to make travel along it easier during the winter months. One cost estimate pegs the work at $4 million. The project is expected is be done in two phases and over two years so it won’t disrupt events scheduled for downtown.

“All the parties support this,” said DDA member John Bultema.

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