Whitewater nears fundraising goal


Nearly 85% of the fundraising goal has been met for the project to restore the Grand River’s rapids downtown.

Grand Rapids Whitewater, the nonprofit spearheading the $44.6 million project, is in the private phase of The Living Grand fundraising campaign and has about $7.5 million left to raise, said Matt Chapman, GRWW project manager. 

He said the plan is to launch the public portion of the fundraising and awareness campaign early next summer when he expects about 90% of the funds to be committed.

“One thing that we feel really strongly about is that everybody has the opportunity to participate in the river,” Chapman said. “Whether you can only give $5 or $10, we recognize the excitement and the community's connection to the river, and we want to make sure that everybody has a chance to participate if they so choose.”

The latest contributions include two pending commitments totaling $5 million. Other recent commitments include $1 million from the Peter C. Cook Foundation, $1.4 million from Kent County and $2 million from the state.

Earlier this year, state and federal agencies came together to work through the integrated permitting process, which is what Chapman said led to pushing out the construction start date by a year to summer 2021, as the Business Journal reported in April.

“There's just an incredible amount of coordination that's taking place among multiple agencies … making sure that this project is done very thoughtfully and very intentionally,” Chapman said. 

The project is expected to take roughly five years.

The first phase, expected to take nearly two years, includes removing the four dams between Bridge and Fulton streets, installed in the 1920s to keep the water level high enough to dampen the smell of sewage. It also includes securing the habitat for the endangered snuffbox mussel.

The second phase of the project includes installing a barrier between Leonard and Ann streets necessary to stop invasive sea lampreys from entering the area.

Chapman said the Army Corps of Engineers is analyzing all of the available alternatives to block lampreys and will determine the best method to do so and how much it will cost to maintain. The current plan is for the city of Grand Rapids to own and operate the barrier, he said. The collaboration is exploring funding sources for the barrier’s ongoing maintenance. 

The final phase includes removing the Sixth Street dam and placement of new substrate and boulders on the surface of the riverbed that stretches from Sixth Street to Interstate 196, which will allow for the natural flow of the river, safer fish passage and habitation for snuffbox mussels.

A cofferdam likely will be used to divide the river in half to divert the flow from one side to the other. Work will be completed on the dry side, and the same procedure will be completed for the other side.

Some spaces, such as Monroe North, will be used as access points to the river during rapids restoration.

The project is expected to enhance recreational activities and the beauty of the river. The project could spur $15 million-$19 million in economic development, according to a study conducted by the Anderson Economic Group.

As the Business Journal previously reported, in conjunction with the rapids project is the $40 million River for All initiative that aims to enhance trails and develop six parks along both sides of the 7.5-mile Grand River stretch between Riverside Park and Millennium Park. 

The sites for development include the decommissioned city water department storage yard, Leonard to Ann trail connection, Coldbrook decommissioned water-pumping site, Monroe North district property, Grand Rapids Public Museum and Fish Ladder Park.

The many detailed plans include several decks, river overlooks, meeting spaces, expanded green space throughout and downtown river access.

Some specific plans include: transforming riverside lots at Monroe Avenue NW and Trowbridge Street NW into green space with an event pavilion and river access; extending the river trail from Leonard Street to Ann Street; an amphitheater at the public museum; a logjam-inspired playground at the Coldbrook site; and conversion of the decommissioned storage tank into an event space.

The majority of this will take place after the river project is complete.

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