GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When his wife told him they were going to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a rural letter carriers convention, Tennessean Mike Hinton was less than thrilled. 

He had a preconceived notion of what the city was like.

“(A) city (with) lots of people. Not this,” he said.

This, being the Grand River downtown. When he snagged a 30-pound catfish with the fishing pole he picked up from Walmart from the riverwalk behind the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, his attitude about the town and the river changed for the better.

However, the river will look much different by 2025. That’s Grand Rapids Whitewater’s target date for the completion of phases one and two of the river restoration project. It’s a project that is expected to cause a ripple effect, both literally and figuratively, on downtown Grand Rapids’ redevelopment efforts.

Grand Rapids city commissioners got an update on the project Tuesday morning.

Grand Rapids Whitewater’s Richard Bishop says they’re working on getting the needed state and federal permits for phase one of the project, which involves the section of the river between Fulton Street and I-196.

The first part of that effort would protect current river life, like mussels, by moving them to another location.

“Soon as the mussels (are) out, we can start putting in materials that (are) necessary to bring the rapids back to Grand Rapids,” Bishop said.

If regulators and Mother Nature cooperate, phase one could be done by 2022.

Phase two includes the area from I-196 to 6th Street, and involves creating a mechanical dam that will control the river’s flow.

“Number one, it’s flood abatement and safety,” Bishop said.

Installation of the dam will be followed by removal of the 6th Street dam, creating the 18-foot drop to restore the rapids. More permits will be needed before that work can begin.

Bishop hopes phase two wraps in 2025.

The price tag for both phases is estimated at over $44 million. Most of that will come from federal grants and private sources.

“The money’s been identified. It’s just being able to get into the river and work,” said Bishop. “That’s the critical milestone we’re facing right now.”

As river restoration continues, so will work by the city to create green space, parks and other recreational attractions.

One such project is underway at Ah-Nab-Awen Park on the west bank of the river near the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, all in hopes of making the river a more inviting place for both locals and visitors.

“Yea, I might come back,” Hinton said after releasing the big catfish back into the river. “Grand Rapids is really nice.”