Partners envision park plan


The Right Place and the Kent County Department of Public Works are partnering on planning and development of the future sustainable business park.

Under the three-year business development agreement, The Right Place will allocate more resources toward the project than it normally would, according to Tim Mroz, The Right Place’s vice president of strategic initiatives who is leading the organization’s efforts on the project.

The Right Place, an economic development organization based in Grand Rapids, also will assist the county with managing community partnerships and identifying new sources of funding for the park.

The Right Place is part of the business development team DPW is forming to implement the plan.

DPW is receiving construction consulting from Grand Rapids-based Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber; waste management consulting from McLean, Virginia-based Gershman, Brickner & Bratton; and received a financial analysis from Stern Brothers.

Grand Rapids-based Sustainable Research Group also is consulting for the project.

The DPW is relying on partnerships for the time being, said Kristen Wieland, DPW communications and marketing manager. There may be a staff person hired specifically to work on this project, she said, but not in the near term.

The park, planned for 250 acres adjacent to the South Kent Landfill in Byron Center and approved by the DPW board in October, is part of the DPW’s commitment to reducing landfill waste by 90 percent by 2030.

The plan is for the park to house publicly and privately owned facilities that will work together to reuse waste or convert it into energy.

The DPW is open to housing businesses including technology developers, startups and nonprofits whose mission aligns with the park’s goals, according to Dar Baas, director of the Kent County DPW.

The project creates potential for innovation and entrepreneurship, Mroz said, with promising economic growth potential.

It’s estimated the park could generate $500 million and create 150 jobs.

“The Sustainable Business Park has the potential to generate investment and create jobs in West Michigan while serving as a national model of what communities can achieve with a practical, innovative approach toward recycling and upcycling,” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place.

Wieland said the partners will extensively plan and vet processors and their technologies over the next three years and work with stakeholders.

The rough timeline has on-site development beginning at the end of 2021.

Funding should be secured by 2021, with operational off-site development and established on-site plans between 2020 and 2022.

The first tenant should be in operation at the end of 2023, diverting 20 percent of the waste stream. Continued tenant agreements and build-outs are planned from 2024 to 2031.

Wieland said leaders expect to build in phases according to appropriateness of technologies based on existing and future site development needs, as funding allows. She said there still is a lot of work to do on how the park should look, based on current and future waste generation and the economic landscape.

“We want to ensure that the businesses that become tenants find success financially and as a part of the solution to reduce waste going to landfill,” Wieland said. “Both of those are important as we move forward, and that’s why having The Right Place in a leadership role on the project is so important.”

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