Grand River Restoration Economic Development Report Summary

The Sixth Street Dam, where access and amenities are currently less than stellar. Photo: Caleb Syswerda

Last month the Grand River Restoration Stakeholder Group released two reports that outline the current plans to restore the portion of the Grand River running through downtown Grand Rapids to a more natural state.

In the previous post on the topic, we covered a report outlining the project’s effects on the river’s quality and use. This time we’ll take a look at the report by the Economic Development and Community Benefits Subcommittee, which outlines the financial and cultural benefits of restoring the river, along with the related challenges and constraints.

The subcommittee’s report recommended that Grand Rapids Whitewater, the nonprofit organization leading restoration effort, commission an economic impact assessment (EIA) considering acquisition of land for public use, trail expansion, and additional parks bordering the restored portion of the Grand River.  The report also urges the study of the project’s cultural benefits, such as revitalizing and bringing together the local community.

Subcommittee members identified multiple opportunities that the project presents. They noted that the restored river and accompanying developments are likely to attract increased tourism which will bolster local businesses and create new jobs. Increased access to the river in a more natural state will benefit both visitors and locals, especially those local residents who currently have minimal access to natural areas. Through education and outreach, a renewed respect for the river and an ethic of stewardship of Grand Rapids’ most prominent natural resource can be generated. The restored river and increased recreational opportunities  nearby have the potential to invigorate the cultural significance of the city’s namesake rapids and the river as a whole. Subcommittee members stressed the reinvigorated river’s potential to retain young professionals and showcase public art.

The report identified several challenges inherent in the ambitious project, which will likely stretch from Ann Street to Fulton. The collaboration of multiple non-profit organizations and stakeholder groups with elements of  local, state, and federal government creates significant questions about project leadership and accountability. Plans to remove or modify the Grand River’s floodwalls and increase parks and other pedestrian amenities throughout the downtown river corridor will almost certainly involve negotiations with landowners.

One of the greatest challenges the restoration project faces is the sheer cost of it all.  Grand Rapids WhiteWater estimates that the cost of restoring the river itself will be 27.5 million dollars, a figure which does not include any shoreline recreational facilities or other “dry” elements of the project. Grants from a variety of sources are being sought, but the project will likely require donations for a roughly third of its funding.

View the full report here (PDF).

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