Recreational river concept zips along


A proposed zipline across the Grand River would require construction of a five-story, 75-foot tower. Courtesy Zip the Grand

Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe it was fate. It certainly wasn’t an everyday occurrence when Jarl Brey met Jim Ligget at a 5×5 Night event about 18 months ago.

After Brey learned that his concept of building a zipline across the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids didn’t win the event’s $5,000 seed money, he looked across the room and saw a stranger he described as “the last guy standing, holding a backpack.”

That guy turned out to be Ligget, and Brey learned that he is one of the foremost designers of ziplines and rope courses. Ligget has been designing these recreational projects since 1989 and owns Ropes Courses Inc., which is headquartered at the Allegan Adventure Zone on Lincoln Road.

“He said, ‘If you’re really serious about this, I’m the guy you want to work with,’” said Brey. “He is a renowned source in zipline and rope courses, safety and structure, and his patented (harness) technology is what people are really striving toward.

“He is the leader in the industry right now. He is working with Disney in Shanghai. He has one in the Mall of America and in one of the cruise ships. He has put these up in Dubai and in Scotland,” he added.

Brey said Ligget is currently designing a project similar to the one he wants to build here for Oklahoma City, which will also send riders across a body of water.

For Brey, that meeting was really unexpected. “That’s what makes this really cool. If you met him, he would just seem like your Uncle Jim. He’s just kind of a regular guy. He’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s going on with this stuff. He knows what he’s talking about and he has the engineers in place. We told him what we had in mind, and he designed this thing for us,” he said.

The idea for the zipline emerged when Brey and Jane Timmer, his partner in Zip the Grand Inc., were relaxing along the river at Sixth Street Park two summers ago.

“We were sitting there in our lawn chairs watching the sunset. I looked across and said how much fun it would be to fly across that river — how cool would it be to run a zipline across there,” he said.

Brey and Timmer would like to begin the zipline and ropes challenge course on the southern end of property owned by the Grand Rapids Public Museum. They hope to end the ride on a city-owned parcel across the river where there is room for the five-story, 75-foot tower they want to build.

“You’ll zip out to it and you’ll climb up three or four flights of stairs and zipline back,” said Brey. “We’re looking at about an 800-foot run from one end to the other, so it’s a total of 1,600 feet that you can zipline across the Grand River.”

Brey said it will take about $2 million to get the endeavor going and keep it sustainable through the early months of operation. The majority of that money, of course, will go to construction, but there also is liability insurance, payroll and other ancillary costs they will have to cover in order to make the project a reality.

They’ve had some general conversations with potential investors. Neither, though, seems really concerned about raising the money. “The $2 million really doesn’t scare me. To answer your question, we don’t have firm funding,” said Brey.

“This is actually the second site we’ve worked on with the city. Once we can get a confirmed site that the city is OK with, then it’s going to be much easier to go to some of the powers that be around the city that have those types of funds and say ‘this is where we’re going to put it.’”

Brey said a key meeting between the city and the public museum is coming up soon, and that gathering could clear up what the immediate future has in store for the zipline.

“We will be the first in the state of Michigan to cross a major waterway in an urban setting,” said Brey, who is a major account executive with Konica-Minolta Business Solutions at 2650 Horizon Drive SE.

At the same time, Brey and Timmer have the Grand Valley State University marketing department doing research on who will be their customers.

“We assume our target market is going to be young adults, 18 to 24. When we asked a room of kids how many have done a zipline, nearly three-quarters of the hands went up. We figure that’s going to be our primary target and we sure want parents to bring their kids down,” said Brey.

If the sites are approved and the funds are raised, Brey and Timmer hope to be operating this fall. They expect to charge $25 for a round-trip ride on the zipline and a climb on the ropes course. Customers will have the option to just ride the zipline or use the ropes course at a lower cost.

“We’re really at the mercy of the city. We’re going to be utilizing their property. They need to have discussions to make sure the people at the museum are OK with having the structure on their property,” said Brey.

“Keep in mind, we’re not going to be charging the city a penny to do this. We’re only going to be paying to do this, so it won’t cost the museum any money. The way we have it in mind is we’re going to make more money for the museum and for downtown Grand Rapids.”

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