Museum expansion project underway

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The construction fencing is up outside the Grand Rapids Public Museum which has begun a $50-million expansion project. Courtesy Photo.

A bevy of city and regional leaders gathered today to celebrate the expansion of an institution that has been a cornerstone of the Grand Rapids community for nearly 170 years. 

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, City Manager Mark Washington, State Senator Mark Huizenga, State Representative Carol Glanville, and Chair of the Kent County Board Of Commissioners Stan Stek led Museum officials in a “ceremonial signing” of a section of sheet piling that will be used in the construction process to commemorate the beginning of a $50 million expansion project that aims to provide better access, experiences, accessibility, and sustainability through multiple enhancements to the Grand Rapids Public Museum and its prominent space on the Grand River at Pearl Street is now underway.

“Our Museum is the steward of many of our city’s historical and cultural assets,” said Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington. “These assets are not only housed in the Museum and its archives, but include locations from the banks of the Grand River to the historic Heritage Hill to the Veen Observatory in Lowell to the experiences in the southeast side of our city. This expansion will revitalize our river’s edge for all to have a better understanding of how the waterway and Museum have played an important role in our city’s history.” 

The project prioritizes riverfront accessibility by introducing advanced stair and ramp systems that exceed ADA 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.

“We are excited to see the kick off of this transformative expansion,” said Bliss. “This is one of the first enhancements to the Grand River and the lands surrounding it. We look at this project as a catalyst to our planned Grand River restoration project and the other projects being planned along the river’s edge.”

Earlier this year Michigan Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks and State Representative Carol Glanville announced that $1 million from the State of Michigan’s “Make it in Michigan” budget was approved for the Museum’s expansion project, which was recognized as a win for the city’s pillar of history, science and culture.

“This $1 million investment from the state will support the Museum in its continued effort to be a great neighbor and important resource in our community,” said Rep. Carol Glanville.

The major renovation is the first since the Museum opened the new location in 1994 and is slated to be the first in a series of restorations planned along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.

The expansion project is funded in part by an $11 million earmark in the 2023 state budget, a $1 million contribution from Kent County, $2.5 million from the City of Grand Rapids, an $800,000 ARPA placemaking grant from The Right Place, and the Great Lakes Fishery Trust. 

“The Museum is and will continue to be a place of learning and research for all residents in Kent County,” said Stek, who serves as Chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners. “It is important that those who live here have access to the rich history our region has to offer.”

The expansion is a shared community investment, with the Museum at its heart. The remainder of the funds will be raised through donations to the project’s Capital Campaign.

Dale Robertson, the GRPM’s President and CEO, underscores the project as a reflection of the Museum’s dedication to community and its mission to inspire curiosity and learning. “The time has come to further our commitment to the community. This expansion responds to a surge in demand, with visitation increasing by 279% over the past decade,” Robertson explains. “Last year, we had to turn down requests from school groups due to our capacity limitations. With this expansion, we aim to double our capacity to welcome and educate our community’s students. All of this came together to say that now is the time. There’s demand, and there is a need.”

Robertson also recognized the GRPM’s position along the river and its integral role in the city’s GR Forward, River for All, and the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Strategic Master Plan. “As an institution on the river, we’ve long focused our educational programming around it. With this expansion, we don’t want to wait any longer to improve our access to this vital resource.”

Robertson reflects on the Museum’s history and its commitment to inclusivity, stating, “It is all grounded in our responsibility as a public institution.”

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