David Marquardt, City of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation director, said the portion of the Grand River running through downtown Grand Rapids is going to look like “nothing anyone anticipates.”
The city recently completed a $7.1 million purchase of 3.7 acres of land along the Grand River in the Monroe North neighborhood in support of the river restoration project, which is set to begin at the end of 2019 and will take five to six years to complete.
The city purchased the property at 511, 519 and 525 Monroe Ave. NW from Kent County for $3.3 million and bought land at 533 and 601 Monroe Ave. NW from Michigan State University for $3.8 million.
The land purchases complete the requirements for the city to obtain a $7.2 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to cover 75 percent of the costs of acquiring the properties as part of the Grand River restoration project.
In the short-term, the land will be used as a construction staging area for the river project. It then will become a public site that includes a park and river-related recreational activities.
“The south end of that site will be the primary river access point for construction and the north end can still be used for temporary recreation,” Marquardt explained.
Part of the site is already being used for Movies on Monroe, which Marquardt said is a great example of temporary uses that the city will consider during the construction phase of the river restoration.
He noted the city is open to suggestions for possible uses of green space over the next five to six years. He said he’s received calls requesting food truck nights, for sand volleyball courts and for a skateboard park. “People are stepping forward with excitement and enthusiasm,” he said.
“It’s going to require some creativity to shield the construction and recreation parts of the site. You could use barriers like food trucks to separate the two sites or you could come up with temporary screening, like Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. has done with the fabric screening on the fence. There are ways to do that. It will be a rough urban site for a few years.”
Marquardt said whatever the temporary opportunities, in the long term, the focus is on creating access points to the river and Monroe North’s expansive green space serve that vision.
“Most people want to be close to the water,” he said, so the city is working on ways to lower the floodwall and bring people to the water.
He also said in less than 10 years visitors to the Grand River will find a riverside trail system designed to accommodate everyone from parents pushing strollers to bicycle riders and joggers.
“The intention is for that trail to become wider and accommodate a greater diversity of users,” he said.
*Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Whitewater