Government, Real Estate, and Sustainability

Grand Rapids plans $10M riverfront land purchase

March 25, 2015
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Grand Rapids plans $10M riverfront land purchase
A rendering of the stepped-back park design planned for land along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, at Monroe Avenue NW and Trowbridge Avenue NW. Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

The city of Grand Rapids is looking to spend $10 million to purchase four acres along the Grand River that sit as undeveloped space and parking lots.

The land is on the west side of Monroe Avenue NW, north of the I-196 overpass and would be used to create a public park.

The site is near Sixth Street Park and borders the shoreline in the area where the restored rapids are envisioned just downstream of the Sixth Street dam.

In support of the rapids restoration that’s planned for the Grand River, city commissioners gave the go ahead last night, approving the submission of a grant application for the project by city administration for a $7.5-million Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant.

If secured, the grant will fund the majority of acquisition costs for the project. A decision on the grant request will be made by December. 

The rest of the cost of the acquisition would come from the city.

If the city doesn't receive the grant, it will try to come up with funds from alternative sources. The city is committed to making the land available for public recreation.

Current ownership

The properties are owned by Michigan State University, Kent County and city of Grand Rapids Parking Services. The city would need to purchase part of the site from its Parking Services division.

The alternative to acquisition is private development.

Riverside recreation

The project grew out of Green Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids WhiteWater, which hope to increase recreational uses in and around the Grand River.

“Future development of the land in this particular manner is key to avoid exclusionary uses of the waterfront,” Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said.

Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong outlined the $10-million land purchase/swap plan, which would provide direct and full access to the river for recreation, while improving flood control and mitigation.

The current riverbank in this area is defined by a sheer floodwall that prevents direct access. He said that future flood protection in this area would need to be heightened for flood control and mitigation purposes — potentially increasing the separation of citizens from their river.

DeLong said the proposed acquisition would permit a different treatment of the site by providing space to construct a tiered, stepped-back design that provides the necessary height, while creating a multi-purpose space for recreation.

“We envision active river access to the restored rapids and floatboat channel, spectator space for water events, gathering spaces, active use space, room for food trucks and other public uses,” DeLong said.

Park space expansion

The acquisition would increase park acreage in the downtown area by 12 percent. It would also extend and enlarge the linear park spaces along the stretch.

"Cities across America are opening up their waterfronts for public uses,” DeLong said. “Grand Rapids is also trying to redevelop our waterfront for public use and access.”

He said the “more public access we can generate, the better.”

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