GRAND RAPIDS — The proposed sale of a site on the west bank of the Grand River could offer the property’s next owner a chance to fulfill some community goals for the city’s waterfront.
The Kent County Road Commission on Dec. 20 issued a notice of sale for its Central Complex property located at 1500 Scribner Ave. NW in Grand Rapids. The property, just north of Webster Street and adjacent to U.S. 131, includes more than 130,000 square feet of building space and 1,090 feet of frontage along the river.
Now that the four-parcel location is on the market, community stakeholders are eyeing the site for its potential to better connect the city to the river in that area.
“This size of waterfront property doesn’t become available very often,” said Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. “This piece of property is uniquely situated along the river corridor in a way that its redevelopment can add a lot of good energy and value to the overall vision for the river restoration project, if it’s done appropriately.”
The Kent County Road Commission complex was identified as one of 15 “priority riverfront sites,” according to GR Forward, a 10-year community master plan and investment strategy for downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River corridor.
The GR Forward document calls for the property to be a mixed-use site in the future, with “opportunities for the development of high loft and office space” close to Scribner Avenue, while allowing pedestrian access to and use of the riverfront. The plan targets the property for terracing as a form of flood management, rather than the hard wall of today, according to the plans. Included in the terraced land is a portion of a 7.5-mile river trail called for by the city’s “River For All” planning.
The conversation around the possible redevelopment of the Road Commission site also comes as Grand Rapids Whitewater hopes to begin restoring the namesake rapids in the river next year.
The nonprofit organization believes the site could help better connect the west side neighborhoods in Grand Rapids to the river.
“When you get the opportunity to think differently about how the site is utilized and eventually developed, there’s a lot of opportunity for increased public access to the restored river,” said Matt Chapman, director and project coordinator at Grand Rapids Whitewater. “That’s important, especially for some of the northwest side neighborhoods, some of which have very limited access to the river already.”
Grand Rapids Whitewater also identified the Road Commission property as a possible temporary construction entrance to the river during the restoration project, Chapman said.
The Road Commission board already has engaged in “preliminary discussions” with several potential buyers of the property, and says it is aware of others who could be interested in the site.
In the notice of sale, the Road Commission said it identified the city of Grand Rapids, Orion Construction Inc., Pioneer Construction, Rockford Construction Co. Inc. and Wolverine Building Group, as well as an adjacent property owner — medical device manufacturer Rose Medical — as “known potential buyers” for the site.
While the Road Commission site falls outside of the Downtown Development Authority boundaries overseen by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Guy said the organization hopes the property’s new owners are supportive of stakeholders’ vision for how the property plays into the greater waterfront plans in the city.
He said he was “encouraged” to see the Road Commission board included parts of the GR Forward plan in its notice of sale.
“This property has been closed off to the general public to use for decades,” Guy said, adding that planned trail connections are key for this site too.
DGRI has kept its eye on the parcel for a few years. In 2016, the organization praised the Road Commission for purchasing property at WalkerView Industrial Park in Walker, which would create opportunity to expand public access and recreation along the river, enhance flood protection and promote “responsible development opportunities” along the Grand River.
Chapman of Grand Rapids Whitewater added the new owner will have the opportunity to “reimagine” flood protection on the site. This could come in the form of green infrastructure, as opposed to the current concrete wall. As well, redeveloping the site could create opportunity to improve the water quality of adjacent Indian Mill Creek, he said.
Likewise, the GR Forward plan proposes a demonstration project involving improving the tributary.
Kent County also has supported the restoration efforts for the Grand River. During its Dec. 20 meeting, the county board of commissioners approved $1.4 million in funding for Grand Rapids Whitewater. The funds will come over a three-year period to support the restoration work.
Steve Warren, managing director for the Road Commission, told MiBiz the property has a “higher and better use” than as the agency’s main headquarters, truck garage, equipment storage and salt facility. He said the Road Commission is not making decisions based on “what we think the future use of the property will be,” while acknowledging that the board “needs to be responsive” to discussions about the river corridor.
The property, in addition to being a significant piece of land with waterfront, also has adjacent access to US 131.
The Road Commission anticipates holding site visits for potential buyers throughout January. The deadline for bids on the property is 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 28. The board plans to review the submissions in March and expects to make a recommendation on March 26.
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