Banking & Finance, Economic Development, and Nonprofits

Whitewater hires new president

Steve Heacock leaves role as senior vice president of community relations at Spectrum Health to oversee river project.

February 8, 2019
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Steve Heacock has been a vocal supporter of the Grand Rapids Whitewater project, and now he’s taking the lead role in seeing it through.

A former board member of the nonprofit, Heacock left his role as senior vice president of community relations at Spectrum Health to likely spend the rest of his career, he said, leading the initiative to restore the Grand River’s rapids downtown as president of Grand Rapids Whitewater.

The project is expected to enhance recreational activities and beauty of the river. The project could spur $15 million-$19 million in economic development, according to a study conducted by the Anderson Economic Group.

“It could change really who we are and what our downtown is perceived to be,” Heacock said. “We expect this to draw many, many people from a pretty wide circle to come and appreciate this amenity.”

The next milestone involves fundraising to reach the project’s $44-million budget.

The latest commitment to the project is $1 million from the Peter C. Cook Foundation Cook Foundation, which puts the fundraising at over 73 percent of the goal.

The campaign recently received $1.4 million from Kent County and $2 million from the state. To help meet the remaining amount, Heacock said he is ramping up the private fundraising campaign, The Living Grand, which he said has been relatively quiet so far. He said he is engaging with foundations, in particular, to help fill in the final gap.

Heacock also is chair of the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, as well as former executive committee member and volunteer counsel for Grand Action and former chair of the Kent County board of commissioners.

In those and other roles, Heacock was a leader in the creation of Millennium Park, Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place. He helped establish the CAA and was involved in establishing the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine presence in Grand Rapids.

Heacock also has worked as chief administrative officer and general counsel for Van Andel Institute and as a partner with Warner Norcross + Judd.  

He holds a B.A. in accounting from Michigan State University and a J.D. from University of Michigan Law School.

“I feel like everything I’ve done has prepared me for this job,” Heacock said.

Richard Bishop, the organization’s first president and CEO, will continue to lead the organization’s permitting and design efforts full time through February, in order to seek regulatory approvals for project construction.

In January, Bishop also began serving as assistant to the newly elected mayor of Columbus, Georgia. Bishop led restoration of the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, noted by USA Today as “one of America’s great urban whitewater experiences.”

In addition to Heacock, GRWW appointed Juan Olivarez to the board of directors in January. Olivarez serves as the distinguished scholar in residence for diversity, equity and inclusion at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.

Olivarez was president of Aquinas College for six years and president of Grand Rapids Community College for almost 10 years.

Since the organization was established in 2009, Grand Rapids Whitewater has led design and engineering for the project, with plans now ready for review by federal and state regulatory agencies.

Part of the planning process has included negotiating with federal, state and local agencies for funding, long-term operations and maintenance of a new adjustable structure to protect public safety, prevent spawning migrations of nonnative sea lamprey and enhance fish passage for native species.

The organization plans to initiate regulatory reviews with the city in the fall and hire a construction manager for the project.

Permits and final designs for phase one are expected to be finished by the end of next year, with the first construction phase expected from 2020-22. The next phase is expected for 2022-24, with the Sixth Street dam removal slated for 2025-26.

Work to be done includes securing the habitat for the endangered snuffbox mussel and installing an adjustable hydraulic structure to act as a barrier for the invasive sea lamprey.

A cofferdam likely will be used to divide the river in half to divert the flow from one side to the other. Work will be completed on the dry side, and the same procedure will be completed for the other side.

One of the final pieces includes placing new substrate and boulders on the surface of the riverbed, stretching from Sixth Street to I-196

Some spaces, such as Monroe North, will be used as access points to the river during rapids restoration.

As the Business Journal previously reported, in conjunction with the rapids project is the $40-million River for All initiative that aims to enhance trails and develop six parks along both sides of the 7.5-mile Grand River stretch between Riverside Park and Millennium Park. The majority of this will take place after the river project.  

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