Mostly clear sailing for major river project


Members of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority obviously had the Grand River on their minds last week: They unanimously committed $131,800 to a pair of projects associated with it.

The largest of those awards, $100,000, went to Grand Rapids Whitewater, a nonprofit started by Chris Muller and Chip Richards. GR Whitewater wants to restore the rapids in the Grand through a four-phased, seven-year undertaking that has been estimated to cost $27.5 million.

The group recently completed the first stage of its work, which drew $25,000 worth of financial support from the DDA and from Founders Brewing Co., and is now ready to move into the second phase that Muller called “feasibility alternatives.”

The budget for this stage is $135,000; it incorporates an increased level of design for the project, more coordinated support and additional engineering work. The goal is to is make the Grand River more ethically pleasing, environmentally sound and useful for recreational activities such as kayaking and rowing.

“We have a wonderful rowing community and we think we can make rowing better. Now that we have a vision and we’ve gotten feedback on that vision, we’re going to see how feasible our vision is,” said Muller, who added that they hope to begin the actual restoration process in 2014. “It’s an expensive project. There are a lot of things that have to happen.”

One thing that has happened is Muller said he and Richards have put together a stakeholder group that numbers about 50 and supports their effort. Rockford Construction’s Mike VanGessel and Spectrum Health’s Steven Heacock are co-chairing the group, which Muller said has business owners serving on it.

Muller said Warner, Norcross & Judd, Seyferth Public Relations, Agent X, Andrews Hooper Pavlik, Fishbeck Thompson Carr & Huber, and Driven have done roughly $50,000 worth of pro-bono work on the project’s behalf.

“Not everybody is for it. Ninety-nine percent get it, but there are some dissenters and we’re working to educate them,” said Richards of the restoration effort. “All of this requires money, which we’re looking for. This is new — something that has never been done before. But this week we had a successful mission to Mars,” he said of NASA’s rover landing on the Red Planet.

Prior to making the monetary award, DDA Chairman Brian Harris said he wants to know the project’s return on investment, its multiplier effect and its economic impact. “We really need to see the whole thing,” he said.

Muller said they haven’t conducted an economic analysis for the project, but the impact has been positive for other cities that have done similar developments.

“You need to present, I think, some hard guesses. We’re starting to get into some real money,” said Harris.

“We have only one Grand River and we need to support this project,” said Kristopher Larson, DDA executive director.

The DDA also agreed to award $31,800 to the rehabilitation of the pedestrian bridge commonly called the Blue Bridge that walkers use to get to and from Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center. The board’s money will go toward the project’s design, work that will be done by Fishbeck Thompson Carr & Huber. The construction contract is expected to be bid in the first quarter of 2013.

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