GR moves forward with plans to become a riverfront city

Posted at 4:14 PM, Mar 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-08 16:31:57-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – It has been three years since Grand Rapids announced a 10-year plan to turn the city into a waterfront city.  On Wednesday, city officials gave the first inside look into their plans while giving the green light for a number of programs to help GR move forward.

The Downtown Development Authority in conjunction with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. approved a number of plans for the Grand River, including one to enhance flood protection and improve public access along the south end of Ah-Nab-Awen Park.

Kris Larson, CEO and President at the DDA, said after 2013’s flooding, FEMA came into assess the city’s flood elevation levels and created new requirements to elevate major segments along the riverfront trail to help protect the community at large from a flood condition.

Larson says in addition to new safety features, the park will become a focal point in connecting the city’s communities together.

“Really the community will be given a glimpse of the future,” Larson said. “As we think about this river trail as a piece of the connective tissue that ties our community to river, it’ll become a sense of pride and they’ll be able to experience a segment of this in the coming months.”

$28,000 contributed by the DDA will help widen the trail up to 15-feet for multi-use, while increasing accessibility for people with disabilities, lighting improvements, new and improved green space, and public seating.

Larso says it’s the first phase along the river of many to come, making a roughly four-mile loop along the Grand River.

“These are improvements that we need to make anyways to be able to improve the flood management system, and while we’re making those we are also improving it to become a recreational facility,” Larson said.

The DDA also gave the green light Wednesday for a PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) mixed-use development at 56 N. Division Avenue for affordable housing and commercial space. Tim Kelly, VP for Planning and Development at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., said the project is designed for people making at or less than 60 percent of the area’s medium income.

“Out of the 132 units, 42 would be set aside for persons with disabilities, 13 would be set aside for the homeless community to make sure the people in need have housing they deserve and require,” Kelly said.

The ground floor at 56 N. Division Ave. will be a community center. 17,000 sq. ft. will be used for commercial space.  Investors also anticipate geothermal sidewalks with solar-power panels on the roof, turning the century-old building into a net zero, energy efficient facility.

The city also received additional funding to prioritize parks, open spaces and streets in the downtown area, including a $1.2 million renovation project at Veteran’s Park located at Sheldon and Fulton St.

The city’s block-by-block ambassador program was also extended another three years and will be renegotiated in June of 2019.