Economic development flows through river restoration

September 8, 2014
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Grand Rapids Business Journal reporters and editors have listened to more than a few ideas, business plans or pleas to report a story so action might be prompted. 

And there are times when the editorial board has gathered and has been inspired by an idea with a plan: Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter shared the vision for the Whitecaps in 1984 and 10 years later opened the ballpark and fielded a team. In 1990, prior to the official formation of Grand Action, Dick DeVos shared what seemed at the time to be a vague plan to build an arena in the downtown area. It opened on Fulton Street in 1996, and was the first of many unprecedented undertakings. Kayakers Chris Muller and Chip Richards, who went on to found Grand Rapids Whitewater, were introduced to the Business Journal by active, engaged community organizers. 

These are only a few examples, not only of what can happen in Grand Rapids, but what does happen in Grand Rapids. 

The announcement this week of the study by Anderson Economic Group on the economic impact of restoring the Grand River rapids in downtown follows almost six years of perseverance by Muller and Richards. Their group is no less a force than Grand Action, and the “crazy” idea they had in 2009 to create a Midwest haven for kayakers and whitewater adventurers is no less a promise than any of the city’s other famed and named projects.

In an interview for a story in sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine last year Muller said, “This project shows how the private and the public sectors can come together. It’s what Grand Rapids is known for.”

Given the time period, the group has accomplished a great deal, including inclusion in the city’s Future Vision metropolitan master planning group. Would-be original opponents such as advocates of the world-class fishing the river offers have joined in with mutually beneficial concepts. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Pure Michigan and Gov. Rick Snyder offer additional sources of staffing and funding.

The Anderson report is the icing on this special treat. The return on investment of $30 million is well within the first few years of the project and is augmented by the additional investments in shoreline development and its spinoffs. 

It also doesn’t calculate the benefits of environmental restoration and improvements, literally, in what’s beneath the surface of the water. And that’s priceless. Mayor George Heartwell is among those who have commented that the river restoration is the most important project the city has seen in the past century.

The Business Journal also sees it as such, even after reporting 32 years of increasingly impactful projects.

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