GRAND RAPIDS — Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. will receive $55 million to connect trails along the Grand River as part of a $4.7 billion infrastructure plan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed today.
The funding will support and accelerate outdoor recreation connections proposed by the Grand River Greenway, River for All, GR Forward and Grand Rapids Whitewater plans that each aim to improve the Grand River waterway and waterfront.
The plans also seek to unify the regional outdoor recreation system across Grand Rapids, Kent County and Ottawa County, said Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
The Grand River Greenway project is a regional effort to establish a public land corridor connecting Grand Haven to the border with Kent County. The idea originated in Ottawa County, which has worked for the past two decades to acquire riverfront property, connect parks and green spaces, and extend the Idema Explorers Trail to connect Grand Haven and Grand Rapids.
“We’ve got a really good trail system in Kent County and West Michigan, but a lot of the connections break down in the city and downtown Grand Rapids,” Guy said. “A lot of the priority projects are looking at filling in those gaps and making regional (trail) connections.”
DGRI plans to build 28 miles of new non-motorized trails that fill in gaps in the riverfront trail system and complete critical connections across Kent County. Priority trail segments slated for construction include a section from Leonard Street to Ann Street, a section from Fulton Street south to Wealthy Street, and a rails-to-trail project that links the downtown riverfront, Belknap neighborhood, Highland Park, Midtown, Ada and Lowell.
“The benefits of these Grand River Greenway investments will extend far beyond downtown and the city of Grand Rapids,” DGRI President Tim Kelly said in a statement. “Connected regions are strong regions. And we know from experience of other metro areas that strategic greenway investments drive far-reaching social, economic and other community benefits. Our vision is to deliver a portfolio of projects that establish downtown as a dynamic hub in the recreation system, expand access to opportunity for all residents and lead to strong positive regional impact.”
DGRI anticipates the proposed trailway expansion will occur over the next four to five years. Construction would start on Lyon Square and the Leonard-to-Anne section in 2023, pending final construction documents, state approval and local work permits.
The state funding also will be used to create new parks and support the rehabilitation of existing public spaces in Grand Rapids, such as Lyon Square and Ah-Nab-Awen Park.
The new state funding will help leverage additional local, federal and philanthropic investment to advance other Grand River Greenway projects currently in the design and development pipeline, Guy said.
“We’re looking at other opportunities at the federal level and will find out about that probably later this year,” Guy added. “There are transportation grants that align well with the idea of a greenway or trail system.”
The bipartisan Building Michigan Together Plan includes $200 million from the coronavirus state fiscal recovery fund that is going toward recreational gateways in Grand Rapids, Detroit, the Northern Michigan Tourism and Sports fund and a local parks and recreation grant program.
“This supplemental uses one-time resources to make long-term strategic investments in the state’s infrastructure to improve the lives of Michiganders today and well into the future,” State Budget Director Christopher Harkins said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to build on this success and working with our legislative partners to enact a budget that will benefit all residents of our great state.”
The infrastructure spending plan includes nearly $2 billion to address critical water infrastructure needs, $645 million for transportation projects, $450 million for park projects (which includes the $55 million going to Grand Rapids), $250 million to improve access to broadband, funding for housing assistance, Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance System, and funding for public safety and first responders.
“I am so proud that the Michigan Legislature and I were able to come together to get this done,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This bill will make a real difference in our communities, support tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, and set up Michigan’s economy for decades of success. It is a testament to what is possible when we put Michiganders first.”