Veterans Memorial Park and Monument Park date to the 1830s, when Grand Rapids was still a village. Courtesy DDA
The Downtown Development Authority learned it will cost about $3.3 million to redesign the two oldest parks in Grand Rapids. For some board members there was a sticker-shock effect.
“I didn’t anticipate the cost,” said DDA Chairman Brian Harris.
Veterans Memorial Park and Monument Park date to the 1830s when the city was a village. Today, both occupy key sites downtown near the busy Fulton Street and Division Avenue intersection, where two important buildings that have been vacant for a long time are being renovated.
Locus Development is rehabbing the former Junior Achievement Building on the southeast corner of Division and Fulton, and 616 Development is doing the same to the old Kendall Building at 16 Monroe Center, which is sits directly across from Monument Park and its Civil War statue.
“The revitalization of this corner has us energized — not just because we’re invested in the Kendall, but because it’s a key area to downtown. We’re excited to see plans being made to not only make these parks more utilized by downtown residents, but also to be a means of educating our next generation on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans,” Marjorie Steele of 616 Development wrote in an e-mail to the Business Journal.
The project would be completed in two stages. The first phase would make a host of improvements to both parks and would cost $2.3 million for construction and implementation. The second stage would rehab the building in Veterans Memorial Park, redo a crosswalk on Division Avenue and create an area where events could be held along Sheldon Avenue, which marks the park’s western border.
Wes Steer, who heads the Grand Rapids office of landscape architect O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock & Associates, said the small building in Veterans is large enough for a coffee shop and maybe another vendor. He said making the structure more active could bring more people to the park.
“There has been a (behavioral) problem in the park, and one way to combat that is to get more eyes on the park,” he said.
Steer said the proposed redesign would make improvements throughout the park and on all its corners. Trees would be added, as would stone columns to the main entrance. He said the work has to be done in a way that would potentially accommodate more memorials, in addition to those that pay tribute to the city’s war dead from World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Steer said the redesign would “honor the service of veterans and not disturb the core of the park.”
As for Monument Park, Steer said the design’s main goal is to open the sight lines to it so the Civil War monument can be seen from all angles. “The monument has always been the focal point,” he said. “If you approach Monument Park from Monroe Center, the monument is actually hidden by the trees.”
The redesign would also clear a space for events where people can gather. It would be made as barrier-free as possible. The same types of columns designed for Veterans Memorial would be installed in Monument Park.
Jay Steffen of the city’s Planning Department said brownfield status with tax-increment financing revenue is available for Veterans Memorial. “We are anxious to move into the construction drawings. We feel very good about the vision we’ve created,” he said.
That vision was aided by a 23-member steering committee comprised of downtown stakeholders like Jeff Reynolds, owner of Reynolds & Sons Sporting Goods located next door to the Kendall Building. The committee met for eight months and approved the redesign for both parks last month.
“It was an exhaustive process. It was inclusive. It was a beautiful process for a key section of downtown,” said County Commissioner Jim Talen, also a DDA member who served on the steering committee.
The second-phase work also includes replacing the utilities in that area, adding a snowmelt system for the sidewalks and making streetscape improvements to Sheldon Avenue.
Veterans Memorial Park was known as Fulton Street Park until 1956. When Monument Park opened, it was called Triangular Park because of its shape.
“The current rehab effort aims to, among other goals, enhance public use and enjoyment of the space; celebrate the heritage of the parks; continue to honor the service and sacrifice of local military veterans; and support the ongoing movement to make downtown more attractive, green, walkable and distinct,” said DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson.
DDA board members sent the redesign plan to the Environmental Action Group, which will review the project’s budget and the cost and consider potential investment opportunities and partnerships.