Grand Action 2.0 unveils new vision for Grand Rapids riverfront

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A section of downtown Grand Rapids earmarked for an amphitheater may also include a zipline to an island in the Grand River, a new rendering shows.

Grand Action 2.0 unveiled the concept for the Market Avenue property to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids Wednesday. The design created by The Populous and Progressive AE builds on community input and recommendations from a study commissioned by Grand Action 2.0.

“I think it’s the next big thing for Grand Rapids, for sure,” Grand Action vice chair David Frey told News 8 Wednesday.

The plan would transform 31 acres of the eastern riverfront between Fulton and Wealthy streets into a mix of green, retail and living space. About 10 acres would be public parks and trails, including a “Green Ribbon” riverfront park connecting to the riverfront trail system, a winding pedestrian bridge over the river and a zipline that would transport people to an island in the Grand River.

The plans also call for a mixed-use development with ground-floor retail prioritizing minority-owned businesses, a residential piazza, up to 1,750 living units that include affordable housing, and 1,675 new parking spots. That’s in addition to the previously announced amphitheater at city-owned 201 Market Ave., which the concept says would seat 12,000 people.

Designers also identified possible sites for more housing, a soccer stadium or aquarium.

“I think sooner than later we’ll see a soccer stadium,” Frey said. “There’s a groundswell movement for an expansion franchise. And I think there’s also a growing momentum for an aquarium, which is not as far along in the development process as the other two but they’ll catch up with the leadership of the Grand Rapids Zoo Society.”

Populous says the goal is to elevate Grand Rapids as a visitor destination.

“Grand Rapids is hot, I mean, hot,” Frey emphasized.

He said West Michigan’s culture is key in bringing the project to fruition.

“What is really special, which is not getting a lot of acknowledgment quite yet, but it is an over-the-top example of public-private partnership, working with the city hand in glove, the private sector hand in glove and with some global resources guiding us…” Frey said. “It is beyond special. It is unique. We are a very collegial community. We’ve demonstrated that for 30-plus years. … It’s less frequent and more of the exception, unfortunately, around the country because some of the components are not in alignment on priorities and partnering. So there’s something in the air around here that is more than special and we’re using it to our mutual cooperative advantage.”

He said some future projects for Grand Action include possibly expanding DeVos Place Convention Center downtown, which is “a little ways down the road,” and a new convention-sized hotel.

Leaders with Grand Rapids Whitewater, an organization setting out to restore the Grand River, say this is exactly the kind of development they had hoped to inspire. 

“We view the river project as a catalyst and we hope this is the first project that’ll be announced of many to come,” Whitewater president and CEO Steve Heacock said. “Because the reality is once you activate this, instead of people with their backs to the river, people want to look at it … want to be around it, and that attracts all kinds of things from residences to restaurants to incredible developments like the one Grand Action 2.0 announced today.”

Progressive AE President and CEO Brad Thomas says the next steps for the amphitheater include more planning to create a site-specific concept and budget. If the costs are feasible, the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority will move forward with the property sale.

— WOOD TV8 anchor and reporter Emily Linnert and reporter Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.

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