February 2018 – “G>R FORWARD”

February 2018 – “G>R FORWARD”

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Twenty-five CSI Chapter Members and guests made reservations for last month’s meeting at The 84th Street Grille to take part in a presentation by David Shaffer, former Grand Rapids City Commissioner from the West Side of Grand Rapids and current business owner of office furniture.  Dave’s presentation gave an excellent and orderly explanation for the renewal of Downtown Grand Rapids that originally began in in the Spring of 2014 and continues to this day.  The original “Downtown and Grand River Action Plan“ was a joint effort by the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) and MNTIFA (North Monroe Tax Increment Authority).  Six primary goals were initially established – 1) Restore the river as the DRAW and create a connected and Equitable River Corridor, 2) Create a true downtown neighborhood as home to a diverse population,  3) Implement a 21st Century Mobility Strategy, 4) Expand job opportunities and ensure continued vitality of the local economy, 5) Reinvest in public space, culture, and inclusive programming,  and 6) Retain and attract families, talent, and job providers with high quality public jobs. 

Let me follow up on these goals and see where progress has brought us forward thus far.  Today, in Goal One to restore the Grand River and make it draw downtown crowds to the river, we see terraced flood walls stretching out on each side of the river.  Terraced wetlands can be seen further upstream and downstream.  One very noticeable tourist attraction, which I was involved with before I became a spec writer in 1973, is the Fish Ladder beside the Sixth Street Dam.  The newest proposal to date is to totally eliminate the dam and go back more than 100 years to bring back the famous “rapids” which Grand Rapids was named after.  Before I wrote specs for WBDC, I worked at F.A. Sedlecky Co. in precast concrete construction and helped design and actually build components of the fish ladder.  The original dam was built to protect fishermen (wading in the river) from falling into those very deep quarry pits where bedrock was removed in order to quarry the stone walls and coping which adorned several of our unique downtown buildings.  Some of those pits went down nearly 60 to 80 feet and were totally oblivious to the fishermen.  One wrong step and they were gone in an instant.  Another feature of the river goals was to create a robust trail system on both sides of the river where pedestrians could enjoy picnicking and hiking along the river.  There were 6.3 miles of existing to be renovated.  Today we have 5.7 miles of new trails on private easements, 0.1 mile of new trail on a cantilevered walkway, 2.0 miles of new trail on structures, and 2.4 miles of new trails on site.  One look of these new trails can be easily accessible behind the Fire Station No. 5 on the SW corner of Monroe Ave. and Leonard St. NW.

Goal Two was to create a true downtown neighborhood that is home to a diverse population.  New apartment buildings along Market Avenue to the south and Monroe Avenue to the north of Michigan St. can testify to the progress of this goal.  Future construction of New Holland Brewing on Bridge St and of the Lofts on Alabama Ave. are a testimony of what is to come.  In 2015, there were 3,392 units in total.  Currently propose are an additional 1,251 units with a proposed potential build-out of 10,900 units.  The net increase of 2,091 “affordable” units in the next few years.

Goal Three was to implement a 21st Century mobility strategy to prioritize pedestrian safety, and to manage parking assets as well as to adjust parking pricing and to incentivize transit by reconfiguring the Dash Service Routes provided by the local bus company.  Another welcome feature is to revise truck routes, highway interchanges, and bicycle paths within the downtown area.  Evidence of new construction can be seen as new concrete bridge piers can be seen inching their way upwards throughout the S-Curve location and I-196 bridges over the Grand River. Also new construction is taking place along Division Avenue north of Michigan St. at the bottom of the steep hill at the base of Lookout Park.

Goals Four, Five, and Six are less distinguishable to detect as new Industrial and Commercial construction follows in the steps of Medical construction along the Michigan Street “Medical Mile.”  Every time there is new construction, extra job opportunities of Goal Four are met. The reinvestment in Public Spaces definitely raises the opportunity for meeting Goal Five.  Next time you are walking or driving through the downtown area, just count the new parks that are popping up and raising the profile of downtown parks and open spaces.  The River Trail runs on both sides of the Grand River.  Linear Parks have been developed along major downtown streets (Ionia Linear Park is located from the north side of I-196 to Mason St.; Sheldon Linear Park is located from Fulton St. to Cherry St.; and Health Loop Park is located in the broad area around Butterworth Hosp., Lena Meijer Heart Center, Calder Plaza, and Lyon Square at  the base of Lyon Street behind the Civic Auditorium next to the Grand River).  In the near future, new parks will be developed at 201 Market, around VanAndel Arena, West Side Plaza (north of Big Boy Restaurant), and Interchange Park encompassing the area around the US-131/I-196 Highway Interchange.  Eventually, after the Sixth St. Dam is removed, new River Islands will appear in the Grand River from the Sixth Street Bridge down to the Wealthy Street Bridge.  The Grand River, south of Wealthy Street will be dredged to open up new boat access areas.  This new River Corridor Plan will be no small feat since existing regulations and codes will have to be modified and updated in order to meet Federal Flood Protection Regulations and newer FEMA  Regulations.  A new Adventure Park will appear shortly along both sides of the Grand River immediately south of the old Grand Trunk Railroad bridge between Sweet Street and Caledonia Street.  This park will include a Zip Line across the Gand River, a Ropes Course, Skate Park, Rock Climbing Wall, Swimming Area, Multi-Season Pole Fishing, Canoeing and Kayaking, Tubing, and Paddle Boarding.

Today, not a week goes by without seeing the progress of one or more of these primary goals.  One very evident goal that I see several times a month is the colorful night-time lighting of the US-131 highway bridges where they cross the main east-west thoroughfares  west of the Grand River when I travel to and from the Main Post Office.  These bright fluorescent colors have helped improve the safety for those walkers who must walk beneath the highway (probably to reach some of the mini local breweries that are popping up on the west side of the river).  Within the past few years, a new North-South road has been developed along Seward Avenue between Fulton Street and Leonard Street  to avoid the old circuitous route along Bridge Street, Stocking Avenue, Seventh Street, and Alpine Avenue.  I will definitely miss the old route because it virtually had a private club or bar along Muskegon Avenue stretching from Butterworth Street north to Richmond Street.  These watering holes were great spots to catch a quick lunch at noon or after work.  Many of these favorite “lunch” stops included  Veterans’ organizations (40 & 8 Club) , Polish or Lithuanian Halls (Sacred heart Club, Kosciusko Hall, Casino Club, Lexicon Club, Polish Vets Hall, Fifth St. Hall, Sixth St. Hall, Ninth St. Hall, St. George’s Hall, St. Vitautis Society, Broadway Bar), and a few public bars


And speaking of bars, the CSI bar tab was sponsored by the Chapter.  The following CSI members and guests made reservations to attend the presentation:

Ed Avink Progressive AE
Kevin Bush Atas
Dale Cammenga Progressive AE
Phil Catalano Foundation Building Materials Sales
Jim Collins C2 AE
Pat Corderman Rockford Constr.
J. Costen (absent) J2 Sales
Tom Dawson (absent) Progressive AE
Ron Duimstra FTCH
Stan Elenbaas Erhardt Construction
John Fick Progressive AE
Brandon Hartwick Progressive AE
Nick Hixson Tremco Roofing
Jim Hojnacki (Emeritus) MI Adjunct – AK. Earthquake  Info Center
Hank Hondorp (absent) Progressive AE
Gregg Jones C2AE
Elise Love Wiss Janey Elstner
Drew McNamara Progessive AE
Jeff Murphy (absent) Progressive AE
Mike Otis Double O Supply & Craftsmen
Jason Potter Progressive AE
David Shaffer (presenter) Former GR City Commissioner
James Speyer C2AE
David Trudell Trudell Architectural Consulting
Brian Welsh Progressive AE

Author: Jim Hojnacki

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