GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Whitewater nonprofit has secured $4.4 million in new public and foundation funding for its restoration efforts of the Grand River through the city.
With pledges of $1.4 million from Kent County, $2 million from the state of Michigan and $1 million from the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation, the group has now raised about 71 percent of its overall $44.6 million fundraising goal, Project Manager Matt Chapman told MiBiz.
For the remainder of the year, Grand Rapids Whitewater plans to go “full-steam ahead” in trying to raise about $8 million in private funding, Chapman said. That includes public campaign that will launch in late summer or fall of this year.
“This is everyone’s river and we want everyone to have the opportunity to contribute to it if they so choose,” he said.
The announcement of the new funding came as Grand Rapids Whitewater also hired a new top executive. Board member Steve Heacock, who most recently served as senior vice president at Spectrum Health, takes over immediately as president and CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater.
“The public investment in this project cannot be overstated. The project will be an economic driver for the region and the public investment will leverage the generous private sector support to make this project become a reality,” Heacock said in a statement.
Heacock formerly worked as chief administrative officer of Van Andel Institute and previously was a partner in law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LLP. He also has been involved in the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority and Grand Action and was a former chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners.
In a statement, Grand Rapids Whitewater board chair Chris Muller praised Heacock’s “extensive experience managing large scale public-private partnerships that have had a profound impact on West Michigan.”
Heacock succeeds Richard Bishop, who recently took a position as the assistant to the mayor of Columbus, Ga.
Bishop, a Georgia native, will work with Grand Rapids Whitewater full-time through February, leading the organization’s permitting and design efforts.
Grand Rapids Whitewater also appointed higher ed veteran Juan Olivarez to its board of directors.
According to Chapman, the recent federal government shutdown has delayed Grand Rapids Whitewater’s permits needed to start work in the river. The organization had wanted to begin work this year, but “it’s now looking like 2020,” Chapman said.
The first phase of construction includes work from I-196 to Fulton Street to remove several low dams and recreate natural habitat in the river.
Other stakeholders, including Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and Grand Valley Metro Council, also have announced plans for the “River for All” project, which would reimagine the spaces along the banks of the river through the city, as MiBiz previously reported.
Grand Rapids Whitewater also continues to formalize a partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the international Great Lakes Fisheries Commission regarding an adjustable sea lamprey barrier downstream from the project. Chapman expects that deal to come this spring. It likely will result in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers getting involved in building the lamprey barrier, which needs to be operational before any work can start on removing the Sixth Street Dam, he said.
The lamprey barrier will “almost become a federally-led project,” Chapman said.