Grand Rapids whitewater restoration moves forward with city, county, MSU land partnership

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Momentum for the Grand Rapids Whitewater restoration is flowing with the latest property transaction in partnership between the city of Grand Rapids, Kent County and Michigan State University.

Thursday the Kent County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the sale of four properties: the city will purchase 511, 519 and 525 Monroe Ave. NW along the Grand River for $3.3 million; the county will also sell the property across the street located at 520 Monroe Ave. NW for $1.65 million, and is adjacent to other MSU-owned property.

Then the county will purchase 601 and 617 Ottawa Ave. NW for $1.33 million from the city, to develop them into employee parking to replace the 520 Monroe Ave. NW lot. These sites will be open to public parking after hours and on weekends, according to officials.

"This is more than a property sale; it is an investment in the future of Kent County," said Jim Saalfield, Kent County Board of Commissioners Chair. "This Board feels the uses proposed here are beneficial to the entire community, and this series of transactions support the future vision of all three public entities."

Grand Rapids Director of Parks and Recreation David Marquardt tells FOX 17 the riverfront property will become developed park land within the next five years, in partnership with whitewater restoration plans.

"This will be kind of a key viewing area, and a chance for citizens to come down, whether you’re in a kayak or not, to be a part of the action if you will," said Marquardt.

A city blueprint of the development shows nearly four acres of park with stepped and natural terraces without a flood wall, and possible large event space, all along the river across from the fish ladder.

"This transaction I think is a key piece from the perspective that not only are we adding valued park land in a downtown setting, where we’re falling a little bit deficient per capita, but it’s equally as important from the standpoint of the river work that’s going on," Marquardt added.

Marquardt says the properties should close within the next three months, and the park land should be developed within the next four or five years, working in conjunction with the whitewater restoration. This acquired riverfront property also becomes key construction access points for the whitewater restoration.

"Acquisition of this site is another example of West Michigan coming together for that larger vision," said Matt Chapman, GR Whitewater Project Coordinator. So this is a really important site for this project."

The plans of restoring the Grand River's rapids began years ago as a grassroots movement between residents. Now Chapman says their team is about a year from beginning fish habitat work in the river, and five to six years from restoring the rapids; though he said their goals are "aggressive."

"It’s a really complex project a lot of environmental and ecological challenges, but we’re working through those and trying to check as many of those challenges off the list as we can to make this a river that really everyone can use: whether you’re an angler, a kayaker, or rafter, just someone that wants to come out and see what the actual historic rapids of Grand Rapids look like," said Chapman.

The city is purchasing the three Monroe Avenue NW riverfront lots with 75 percent funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund, which was awarded to the city in 2016. The city is paying for the remaining 25 percent, according to officials.

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