GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A 12,000-seat amphitheater. An adventure park with a zipline and kayak launch sites. Housing towers containing up to 1,750 apartments. And ground-floor retail space.
That’s a sampling of the long-term vision for 31 acres along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids that’s being eyed for redevelopment by the city of Grand Rapids and Grand Action 2.0, a private economic development group whose members include Carol Van Andel and Dick DeVos.
“From our perspective, without hesitation, we think that the Grand Rapids riverfront renaissance is one of the greatest downtown projects happening in the country,” said John Shreve, senior urban planner at Populous, a Kansas City-based architecture firm hired by Grand Action to create a conceptual vision for the site.
Grand Action 2.0 unveiled its vision for the site at a meeting Wednesday of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. The 31-acre stretch being considered for redevelopment is located on the east bank for the Grand River along Market Avenue between Fulton and Wealthy streets.
It includes a 17-acre industrial site owned by the city of Grand Rapids, a 500-space parking lot owned by the Amway Hotel Corporation, and the former Charley’s Crab restaurant owned by a limited liability company connected to the DeVos family. The vision for the site is designed to complement efforts by Grand Rapids Whitewater to restore the rapids in the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.
A formal timeline for redeveloping the site has not been announced, nor have details about cost or who would fund the developments.
The plan recommends that the following elements be considered in the development:
• 10+ acres of new public open space connected to the Grand River
• Alternatives for new pedestrian bridges to the west side of the Grand River
• The Grand Rapids “Green Ribbon,” an elevated and dedicated riverfront park connecting to the river trail system between Fulton and Wealthy Streets
• Adventure park, kayak pit-stop, zipline and seasonal attraction or cultural park
• Community green space to accommodate multigenerational gatherings and activities
• Ground floor retail and trend-forward mixed-use prioritized for minority-owned businesses
• 12,000-seat amphitheater
• Up to 1,500-1,750 mixed housing units, with a dedicated site at Wealthy and Market Avenue for affordable housing on the park and river
• 1,675 new parking spaces to support mixed-use and other functions
• Recommended sites for future downtown development of housing, soccer venue or aquarium
The redevelopment of the site, from start to finish, is expected to take between 15 years and 20 years, said Amber Luther, a planner at Populous. She said work to clear the area for future development can be done within a five-year period.
“I think it really does bode well for the city, Grand Action and all of the other partners that you guys have this great working relationship and other success stories in your past,” she said. “There are other cities that don’t have that and things take a lot longer when that’s not in place.”
However, some of that work is already underway on the project that appears to be first on the agenda: the 12,000-seat amphitheater.
The city of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention Arena/Authority (CAA) have approved an option for the CAA to purchase a portion of the city-owned property at 201 Market Ave. SW, where the amphitheater would be located. The CAA is the public authority that owns Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall. It’s been discussing the idea of creating an amphitheater in Grand Rapids since at least 2018.
And the city, the CAA, Amway Hotel Corporation and a company connected to the DeVos family have all contributed to an $18.6 million project that would relocate a sewer that runs through the properties being considered for redevelopment. The sewer must be moved for the project for any construction to take place at the site.
“That opens the door for continued planning for the amphitheater,” said Tom Welch, regional president of Fifth Third Bank and a co-chair of Grand Action 2.0. “From our perspective, from Grand Action’s perspective, the amphitheater is potentially one of the first projects on the table.”
Brad Thomas, president and CEO of Progressive AE, an architecture, design and engineering firm working with Grand Action, said next steps for the amphitheater project include creating a detailed design of the amphitheater and how it fits into the overall project footprint.
That plan would help those developing the amphitheater understand the cost of the project, he said.
“We need to first understand cost,” Thomas said. That “will allow us to understand financial feasibility — what’s the funding strategy for a project like this.”
Grand Action also sought input from the public on what it would like to see in the area, officials said during their presentation Wednesday. That outreach was led by Skot Welch of Global Bridge Builders, who reportedly reached out to various community groups, organizations and residents to hear their feedback about development plans.
One idea that rose to the top: a downtown aquarium.
Welch, of Fifth Third Bank, said residents who spoke with Grand Action’s community outreach effort “repeatedly” voiced support for an aquarium. However, at this time, the aquarium is not expected to be part of the redevelopment of the 31-acres along Market Avenue.
He suggested John Ball Zoo could continue to pursue the idea.
“They would need to really take this on and carefully study this opportunity,” he said.
“If it is to move forward, the (zoo’s) CEO, Peter D’Arienzo and his team, would really take the lead on this, possibly in partnership with the county. As far as Grand Action goes, is there an opportunity for us to partner and help with that? I would say there is. But a little more due diligence, a little more research, probably needs to happen before we could say what that might actually look like.”
A professional outdoor soccer stadium has also been part of Grand Action’s vison for Grand Rapids for several years now.
That concept also is not planned for the Market Avenue property. But the plans unveiled Wednesday call for it to be considered for future development at another yet-to-be-named location downtown.
Grand Action Co-Chair Carol Van Andel spoke in support of the stadium during the economic club meeting.
“We are a soccer family,” she said. “We’ve had conversations with the United Soccer League, and they think Grand Rapids is a prime location for a championship league, and that’s really exciting.”
Van Andel said next steps for the soccer stadium include putting “an ownership group together,” and then working with the ownership group to determine a site for the stadium as well as financing.
“This is picking up some major steam,” she said, “and I see it in our future.”