$50M museum expansion packed with purpose

An artist's rendering of the riverfront improvements in the works at Grand Rapids Public Museum's exterior. The drawing depicts just some of the improvements that will be made over the next 18 to 24 months .

A Grand Rapids City Commission vote yesterday will pave the way for a $50 million expansion at Grand Rapids Public Museum. The grand redesign of one of the city’s most iconic attractions is a historic moment for GR Forward, the community plan launched nearly 10 years ago with the aim of enhancing the city’s riverfront features, and is one of the fundraising group’s several projects that fall under the “riverfront restoration” umbrella.

“On behalf of the GRPM I express my thanks to the City Commission and the administration for their work and dedication to this expansion by approving the bid package so construction can begin,” said GRPM President and CEO Dale Robertson. “The GRPM is situated on the banks of the Grand River and the riverfront improvement portion of the project will result in improved and sustained access to the river by the public on a routine and regular basis. The Museum’s science and cultural programs will also be a beneficiary of this improvement because greater river access will result in more visceral and immersive experiences.”

Artist’s rendering of exterior improvements to be made to Grand Rapids Public Museum.

The project marks the first major renovation for the 170-year-old Museum since it opened its current location in 1994. The new design prioritizes riverfront accessibility by introducing advanced stair and ramp systems that exceed Americans with Disabilities Act standards. It will also seamlessly link a 7.5-mile urban trail to prominent regional trails, such as the White Pine Trail, Kent Trail, and Grand River Greenway.

Further enhancements are planned for the Museum’s north lawn, incorporating aesthetic elements like a living roof. A standout geologic rock wall will adorn the riverfront, offering visitors an educational insight into the Grand River’s geology.

By responding to growing need, the expansion reflects the Museum’s dedication to the community and its mission to inspire curiosity and learning. Visitation has increased by 279% over the past decade. Last year, the Museum had to turn down requests from school groups due to capacity limitations. With this expansion, the Museum aims to double its capacity to welcome and educate the community’s students.

“The Museum plays a prominent role in our community as an educator, and as the keeper of our history and narrative of who we are and aspire to be,” said Robertson. “It’s gratifying that at this juncture we will now expand to meet demand and continue our 169-year institutional heritage.”

The Museum expansion is a major milestone for GR Forward. Funded in part by an $11.5 million earmark in the 2023 state budget, a $1 million contribution from Kent County, $2.5 million from the City of Grand Rapids, and an $800,000 American Rescue Plan Act placemaking grant through The Right Place, the expansion is a shared community investment, with the Museum at its heart. The remainder of the funds will be raised through a Capital Campaign.

“As a public institution, it’s everybody’s Museum,” Robertson said. “This expansion allows us to open our doors to more of the public than ever.”

Launching this fall, the project is expected to last 18 to 24 months and is the first in a series of restorations planned along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, the Museum expansion is a key element to GR Forward.



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