GRAND RAPIDS — City officials have taken the initial steps of a planned public-private partnership that could redevelop a city-owned waterfront property near downtown into a 14,000-seat amphitheater.
A key piece to moving the redevelopment forward is removing an onsite sanitary sewer that has bogged down previous redevelopment plans.
The city is now moving forward with an $18.6 million project to relocate part of the Market Avenue sanitary sewer and opening the site for redevelopment. The Grand Rapids City Commission has approved a memorandum of understanding related to the project that will split the costs among public and private entities.
“This is an economic recovery project which will move this encumbrance to allow for property redevelopment,” City Engineer Tim Burkman said during Tuesday’s committee meeting.
According to a letter from City Manager Mark Washington: “This innovative public/private partnership is an economic recovery project that will remove a critical barrier to redevelopment of properties along the Market Avenue corridor, including the City’s 15.8 acre 201 Market Avenue property and the 4.3 acre property located at 509 Wealthy Street. Proceeding in this way reduces construction conflicts and helps ensure timely availability of the properties for redevelopment without this encumbrance.”
The existing trunk sewer under the 201 Market Ave. property is 11-and-a-half feet wide and 13 feet tall. Relocating the infrastructure would be largely completed in 2021 and some construction would wrap up in early 2022, Burkman said.
The sewer has proved to be a major obstacle for the city in attracting developers for the 201 Market site. The city recently walked away from a nearly $270 million site proposal because the developer failed to secure tax incentives that would have helped relocate the sewer.
The proposed agreement would allow for cost sharing of the project between the city, the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, Amway Hotel Corp. and 63 Market Avenue Holdings LLC, which is registered to RDV Corp., the DeVos family office.
The city’s share would be $6.25 million, the CAA is proposed to contribute $5 million, and private entities would pay $7.38 million.
In recent months, Grand Action — the business group led by Dick DeVos, Carol Van Andel and Fifth Third Bank Regional President Tom Welch that pushed for several major downtown developments over the past two decades — reconvened to focus on new downtown projects, including an amphitheater potentially at 201 Market.
Grand Action Spokesperson John Truscott said the business group is not involved with the proposed sewer project and property deal, but rather is undergoing a study into potential project that would be a “good fit for downtown Grand Rapids.”
The sewer project proposal also outlines a process for entering into an option agreement allowing the Convention/Arena Authority to acquire the northern portion of the 201 Market property for the development of a proposed 14,000-seat amphitheater. The city would retain the waterfront corridor for recreation purposes. The Convention/Arena Authority and the city would collaborate on future uses of the remaining portions of the 201 Market property, according to the agreement.
The Convention/Arena Authority is a seven-member board that administers the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall.
The city anticipates making a profit on selling portions of the property, which would be used in part to fund the relocation of city services from the 201 Market site. The city is evaluating moving services about two miles north to the Kent County Road Commission’s Central Complex at 1500 Scribner Ave. NW.
The Convention/Arena Authority’s investment in the project is contingent on whether the organization enters into an option agreement for the property. The authority’s portion of the sewer project funding would be returned if an option is not approved or is later exercised. The city would then assume responsibility for the authority’s funding contribution to the sewer relocation project.
The Convention/Arena Authority plans to vote on the memorandum of understanding at its Nov. 13 meeting. If approved, the property acquisition portion of the project would be considered again by the authority and the city.
City Commissioner Senita Lenear asked during Tuesday’s committee meeting how equity would be factored into the project.
“The CAA and the city both have equity in their mission and as we work forward with this we’ll be talking to the CAA about their vision on the site,” said Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comments from Grand Action Spokesperson John Truscott, as well as the City Commission’s approval of a memorandum of understanding.
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