Grand Haven ponders how to best redevelop waterfront

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN. Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Haven will soon begin accepting proposals from developers to redesign a portion of the waterfront.

The area the city wants to redevelop is along Harbor Drive between the splash pad and farmers market. The space once included several storefronts at the shops at Chinook Pier before they were torn down due to mold concerns. A total of 12 retailers occupied the space before being forced to relocate last year.

The city has since replaced the set of three buildings with a grassy area, foosball tables, cornhole games and pingpong tables. It’s now called The Fun Zone.

The Fun Zone at Chinook Pier in Grand Haven. (Aug. 18, 2021)

“This was just an interim idea. We put grass here so it’s an attractive place to be but it’s not the final answer,” Grand Haven City Mayor Bob Monetza said. “(The grassy area) is beautiful and the longer it’s empty, the more people like it that way — but it’s in the city’s interest to put something else here because there was something and it was pretty successful.”

Current redevelopment plans are preliminary, but Monetza said the city is looking at moving the city-owned mini golf course and farmers market to a different area within the confines of the splash pad and and historic It also wants to build new retail and restaurant spaces. The city says it would not move the play area or historic locomotive that stands nearby.

“As you can see, just looking around, there’s a lot of activity happening around us. The farmers market is going like gangbusters and people are on the boardwalk, but no one is actually on this grass but the three of us. So I think there’s an opportunity here to make this into productive real estate,” Monetza said.

A proposed site plan for the Grand Haven waterfront. (Courtesy)

Monetza said The Fun Zone has been very popular, with city staff setting out bean bags and game balls for people to play with every day. On Wednesday, several people gathered on the boardwalk to play.

“The cornhole, the foosball, the pingpong, my kids love it so much,” Caroline Merz said as she read a book in front of docked boats nearby.

She said she was sad to see the shops go at the beginning of 2020 but she’s excited to see what the city does with the space.

“I am from Grand Haven and it’s a beautiful city. I love it and I love being down here on the boardwalk,” Merz said. “I’d like to see more shops and more restaurants. Some restaurants would get people down here.”

While the city hopes to bring retail businesses back to the area once it’s redeveloped, the shop owners who were previously there say they’re not sure if they want to move back.

“This business has been around for a long time and it’s one of the ice cream gems here and we love serving Grand Haven and all the tourists that come here and I’d like to find a spot where we’ll be for the next 35 years,” said Kelly Larson, who owns Temptations Ice Cream Shop.

Larson was one of the five Chinook pier retailers that the city allowed to move to the historic Grand Trunk Depot when the shops were torn down. The city had previously planned to redevelop the depot. It’s unclear if the city will allow the shop owners to stay in the depot if the shops are rebuilt.

“One of the biggest challenges for me is how do you move a business two years later and then move it again. I’m a little worried about how to keep my following,” Larson said. “Is it going to be a restaurant? Retail? I don’t know what that looks like and we don’t know the future of the depot, either, so it’s hard to say where I would prefer to be because both of them are so unknown.”

Monetza said nothing is set in stone and where the shop owners go next will be their decision.

The city is now awaiting proposals from developers.

“It’s important to make this a very appealing waterfront for both the residents and the visitors here so that they have fun things to do here and places to shop. It’s good for the economy generally but we don’t want to overwhelm it,” Monetza said.

The city says it is expecting to have a final proposal by next spring and hope to begin construction soon after. The plan will be further discussed at future city council meetings.

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