What color should downtown’s ‘Blue Bridge’ be painted?


Downtown’s ‘Blue Bridge’ is often integrated into artists’ creations for ArtPrize. Photo via fb.com

Turns out downtown’s “Blue Bridge” has a formal name: the Indiana Railroad Bridge. Who knew? Not a lot of people, if one judges by the Facebook comments that followed the Downtown Development Authority’s call for color suggestions on re-painting the bridge.

“It is one of the oldest historic structures in the city, and one of the oldest designated landmarks as well,” said Kristopher Larson, DDA executive director. “It was originally built for the passage of railroad cars.”

The bridge gained its nickname after a primer coat was left as its permanent color; the bridge had been black and was in the process of being painted bronze. Today, the bridge is an iconic Grand Rapids landmark, in part, because of its unique color.

This upcoming spring, the DDA is planning several updates to the bridge, including restoration of the concrete walkway, increasing and updating the lighting and a fresh coat of paint.

The DDA is enlisting the help of Grand Rapids residents in choosing the color for the bridge. Two community input sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 11. The sessions will be at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. in The Overlook Room located on the first floor of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. In addition, the organization is encouraging Facebook and Twitter posts about the color selection.

“Aside from the color, specifically, what we are really trying to do is give people an opportunity to participate in decision making,” Larson explained. “This project presents a tremendous opportunity to do that, because, while it is a historic structure, the blue color is not the historic color of the bridge, and if we are going to re-paint it, why not spark a conversation within the community about the importance of it as an icon. How does color affect its stature within the community?”

By and large, the top suggestion so far is to keep the bridge blue, though some responders did suggest alternative colors — red, Calder orange and green among them. Some leaving comments also are floating the idea of how aesthetic lighting could influence the color, allowing the bridge to take on different hues at night depending on the season or special events downtown. That is definitely possible, according to Larson, and something to consider in making color suggestions.

Work on the bridge will be completed before ArtPrize 2013. The budget for the project is $1.25 million, with a grant from the state covering one-third of the cost.

“This is really the beginning, so to speak, of the new DDA way of engaging the community in decision making,” Larson said. “We are interested in seeing where this goes and hopefully people enjoy being a part of decision making.”

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