Grand Action 2.0 reveals plan for riverfront development

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Conceptual plans include a pedestrian walkway, an amphitheater and a zipline. Courtesy Populous

Grand Action 2.0 revealed a conceptual plan for riverfront development along a currently underutilized stretch of Market Avenue south of Fulton Street.

The business-based, private economic development nonprofit Grand Action 2.0 presented on Wednesday during the Economic Club of Grand Rapids program a conceptual plan that came out of a study commissioned by Grand Action 2.0 conducted by the international design and planning firm Populous, based in Kansas City, Missouri, in partnership with Grand Rapids-based architectural firm Progressive AE.

The Conceptual Planning for Riverfront Sites in Downtown Grand Rapids executive summary can be found at Grand Action’s website.

The plan was commissioned to create a comprehensive vision for future development of 31 acres along the east bank of the Grand River between Fulton and Wealthy streets, including the development of the city-owned site at 201 Market Ave. SW and the property at the corner of Fulton and Market.

Building on initiatives such as Grand Rapids Whitewater, River for All, and the Equitable Economic Development and Mobility Strategic Plan, the conceptual plan considers a diverse range of developments for some of the most valuable riverfront property in downtown Grand Rapids.

Project recommendations from the report include:

  • 10-plus acres of new public open space connected to the Grand River
  • Alternatives for new pedestrian connections to the west side of the Grand River
  • The Grand Rapids “Green Ribbon”: an elevated and dedicated riverfront park connecting to the river trail system between Fulton and Wealthy streets
  • Adventure park, kayak pit-stop, zipline, and seasonal attraction or cultural park
  • Community green space to accommodate multigenerational gatherings and activities
  • Ground floor retail and trend-forward mixed-use prioritized for minority-owned businesses
  • 12,000-seat amphitheater on the 201 Market site
  • 1,500 to 1,750 mixed housing units with a dedicated site at Wealthy Street and Market Avenue for affordable housing on the park and river
  • 1,675 new parking spaces to support mixed-use and other functions
  • Recommended sites for future downtown development of housing, soccer venue or aquarium

“Our job was to envision and evaluate which assets will bring the greatest community benefit,” said Tom Welch, Grand Action 2.0 co-chair. “With a proposed 10 acres of accessible public space, including a ribbon of parkland along the riverfront, the final recommendations placed strong emphasis on community access and green spaces.”

Populous’ work leveraged recommendations from the 2020 Venues & Attractions study by Convention, Sports and Leisure International, also commissioned by Grand Action 2.0, which the Business Journal reported on in a Dec. 11 article.

That study made recommendations to create a conceptual plan for the Market Avenue corridor that potentially incorporates hospitality, outdoor adventure, an amphitheater and other assets that will benefit West Michigan and elevate the region as a visitor destination.

“The goal was to create a catalytic vision that will improve the quality of life for today’s Grand Rapidians and to guide the next phase of downtown development for future generations,” said John Shreve, senior urban planner and senior principal at Populous. “What’s being envisioned here is one of the most exciting urban developments in the country.”

The design team focused on providing public open space and strategic mixed-use development accompanied by infrastructure improvements that would optimize the riverfront sites and tie in with Grand Rapids Whitewater plans already underway.

“Populous has applied (its) proven urban planning skills to this underutilized 31 acres of prime real estate and envisioned a magnetic mosaic of critical urban assets on the banks of our Grand River,” said David Frey, Grand Action vice chair. “They have reimagined something powerful that responds brilliantly to the expectations and hopes of a diverse cross section of our residents. Properly executed over the next several years, it will bring new energy and excitement to our community.”

The process was led and funded by Grand Action 2.0 working together with the city of Grand Rapids. It began in October 2020 with a public engagement process that included 26 one-on-one interviews with community groups, foundations, elected officials and a variety of other downtown stakeholders. The group also partnered with Skot Welch, of Global Bridge Builders, to conduct four community-only virtual focus groups, each engaging 15 to 20 participants from diverse backgrounds.

“When we reconvened as Grand Action 2.0 in 2020, we were very intentional about diversifying our advisory committee,” said Carol Van Andel, Grand Action 2.0 co-chair.  “That approach carried over to these latest studies and to our planning process. We reached out to several community groups in order to engage a diverse cross section of the population and solicit opinions to make this, truly, a community project.”

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