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Livable transportation engineer to share place-making strategies with West Michigan communities

The new trends shaping our cities’ urban cores diverge from sci-fi visions of flying cars and stair-stepped, congested roadways reaching up through smog-obscured skyscrapers. In reality, 21st century visionaries are asking how cities can become healthier, more walkable, bike-friendly, and include more trees and green space. Additionally, severe weather events are inspiring conversations about climate change and climate resilience—and how cities can play an active role reducing the former and creating the latter. 

As part of their “Series on Sustainable Transportation and Innovative Community Design,” the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), Ottawa County Department of Public Health, and Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department have invited West Michigan’s city planners, developers, and citizenry to join those conversations, led by nationally-acclaimed speaker and livable transportation engineer, Ian Lockwood, P.E.

Lockwood specializes in place-making: making communities more walkable, bike-able, and transit-friendly. As city transportation planner for West Palm Beach, Florida, Lockwood earned accolades for his role in transforming the mostly blighted city into a vibrant community.

“Ian speaks to a lot of different concepts related to transportation as well as smarter community design,” says Danielle Bouchard, land use planning specialist, County of Ottawa. “His messages start from the big picture and narrow down to smaller applicable increments, things you can do every day to improve walkability, economic sustainability, and that kind of thing. His message speaks towards different ways of thinking, challenging the traditional transportation language, and opening up different ways of approaching different challenges in community.”

The evening of March 12, Lockwood will share strategies on walkability and community transformation over beer and pizza at New Holland Brewing Pub on 8th. On March 13, at Hope College Maas Auditorium, his morning presentation centers on transportation language and creating authentic character in community. In the afternoon, he will discuss how to get developments, streets, open spaces, and people to work together for a shared vision.

“Cities and communities, in general, should be designed for people not for cars,” Bouchard says. “It’s good to have those other routes for people who not are able to drive—or just to have that sense of community where you can walk outside, get from point A to point B, have things in close proximity, and feel safe.”

Sponsors of the event also include the City of Holland, Lakeshore Advantage, West Coast Chamber of Commerce, several Lakeshore businesses, and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Michigan Chapter. Lockwood’s articles are featured on the CNU website. According to the website, CNU’s 18 local and state chapters “help create vibrant and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, shop, and get around. People want to live in well-designed places that are unique and authentic. CNU's mission is to help people build those places.”

Bouchard cites Lockwood’s presentation at last year’s CNU conference as inspiration for the event. 

“We are really excited about this event,” Bouchard concludes. “We want to make sure that Ian’s message can be reached in many communities, the City of Holland, the City of Grand Rapids, and West Michigan’s rural townships.”

The Ian Lockwood Series

March 12 at New Holland Brewery Pub on 8th

  • “A Casual Evening with Ian,” 6:30 – 8 p.m. Cost $20.

March 13 at Maas Auditorium Hope College

  • “Good Inputs, Design, & Outcomes,” 8:15 – 11:30 a.m. Cost $25.
  • “Making It Real & Sharpening Your tools,” 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. Cost $25.

Attend both March 13 sessions for $40. AICP credits available.


Register at Eventbrite. For information, contact (616) 738-4852 or plan@miottawa.org.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photo courtesy Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department

Align Transit Improvement Study requests feedback for the Rapid

With the goal to capture feedback from both riders and non-riders of Grand Rapids’ public transportation system, The Rapid announced the launch of an online feedback tool called the Align Transit Improvement Study. With outreach and planning meetings having taken place in May of this year, the year-long project will help the public transit agency prioritize improvements over the next decade, with the public feedback period ending on Sept. 30.

Located online at http://aligntransit.org, the study is focused on supporting The Rapid’s short-range transit plan, identifying, analyzing and prioritizing a set of transit improvement recommendations to be made to the existing transit system.

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga says officials hope the study will identify ways to add to and improve the network, recommend land use and other policies and to help grow ridership and determine the improvements the public would like to see for the system.
“Public transportation is a vital part of Grand Rapids and its surrounding communities—whether you ride The Rapid daily, occasionally or have yet to try public transportation,” Varga says. “The Rapid has helped connect thousands of people across our community for years. The Align Study is an opportunity to work together and ‘align’ for better public transit in the metro region, so we encourage the public to engage with the short online feedback tool.”

The platform, which is mobile-friendly for all devices, features a variety of interactive exercises, including ranking enhancement priorities, and an interactive map for participants to place comments that provide specific locations where those enhancements are most important.

Because the study is not tied to any specific funding initiatives, there is no guarantee any changes will be made. However, the Rapid will use this as an opportunity to collect feedback to help ensure growing demand and to keep pace with changing regional growth patterns. The Align Transit Improvement study hopes to accomplish everything from enhancing transit services that provide competitive options to congested roadways to providing safe and equitable access to The Rapid network, thus supporting urban revitalization and economic development.

“The Align study is important to The Rapid because it will hone in on service enhancements that are desired by the community, especially for our employment-based riders,” says The Rapid’s strategic planning manager Conrad Venema, who doubles as the Align Study leader.

“The Rapid realizes that as the community grows, it’s vital for our transit system to adapt to the changing needs of users. The Align study will help The Raid achieve its goal of providing safe and equitable service that connects people to jobs, promotes economic development and offers a first-class transit experience.”

Click here to provide your feedback and take the Align Transit Improvement Study.

Images courtesy of The Rapid.

New street signage in East Hills supports neighborhood's 'people first' mantra

After last week's public unveiling of the handful of non-motorist street signage and marking improvements, collaborators from the City of Grand Rapids and the East Hills Council of Neighbors want both residents and commuters to remember: East Hills is a people-first neighborhood and its transit structure should support and help enforce that idea. 

Rachel Lee is director of the EHCN, and she says implementation ideas surrounding the possible non-motorist street upgrades began as part of a larger discussion during the drafting of the 2014 Public Spaces Plan, which included a Complete Streets section — or, in other words, an emphasis on design solutions, policies and initiatives that make the neighborhood's streets safer for all users, no matter what your mode of transportation.

“…Since we consider ourselves a ‘people first neighborhood,'  one where we like to plan for pedestrians, transit, cyclists and then cars, we wanted to take those strategies to the next level,” Lee says.  

So, members of the EHCN worked alongside the City of Grand Rapids to brainstorm different kinds of non-motorized strategies East Hills could implement in partnership with the city to help encourage pedestrian and bicycle safety and create a more walkable neighborhood overall. With the ever-growing population of new non-motorized commuters adding to that foot traffic each day, making a few user-friendly adjustments seemed like the best place to start. 

“People always talk about that thing of when you go to a big city, and you step on the street and all the cars just stop for pedestrians,” Lee says. “That doesn’t really happen here, and that’s a cultural thing…So, how can we help impact the culture so that people understand that when they’re driving through the central city neighborhood, there’s also going to be people walking around, or using city transit, or riding bikes, and that they’re also part of that urban fabric?”

The majority of recent updates focus on the functionality of crosswalks in high-trafficked areas, many of the changes informed by a walking audit of the neighborhood to identify areas of high pedestrian traffic.

Funded by the city’s traffic calming and safety initiative budget, the $14,473 project afforded the enhancement of two existing crosswalks (resurfacing severely worn crosswalks with a higher quality, longer lasting thermal plastic paint); the creation of five new crosswalks; shallow markings along Wealthy Street, Eastern Avenue, and Diamond Avenue; “no bikes on sidewalks” signs posted throughout the commercial corridors along Cherry Street; and, finally, the city’s first-ever installation of “in-yield pedestrian” signs within select crosswalks on Cherry, Wealthy, and Lake Drive. 

Following the neighborhood's signage installation, Western Michigan University will study the impact of the East Hills “pilot program” launch, such as analyzing where the best possible placement of new signage might be, to help create strategies for potential city-wide implementation in the future.

“This is just a start for our neighborhood, and it’s taken us since fall 2014 to get where we are today, so we’re by no means finished with what we want to do,” Lee says. “Our streets and our sidewalks are not seasonal attributes to our city. They’re part of everyday life and because of that, we need to make them as safe. and as inviting, and as welcoming as we possibly can.” 

For more information about how you can help make East Hills even more people friendly, visit EHCN online at www.easthillscouncil.org.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of East Hills Council of Neighbors 

Grand Rapids again named Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community by League of American Bicyclists

Grand Rapids has once again received the designation of Bicycle Friendly Community at the Bronze level by the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists. The award recognizes the city's efforts toward transforming its transportation networks, quality of life for residents, and sustainability. Grand Rapids received its first award in 2009.

The five award levels -- diamond, platinum, gold, silver, and bronze -- provide clear benchmarks for communities to improve in the "5 E's" of the Bicycle Friendly Community program -- engineering, enforcement, encouragement, education, and evaluation and planning.

"People are looking for a vibrant bikeable and walkable city, and a Bike Friendly Community city can say 'look at all the wonderful things we have for you, come to our city to experience it,'" says Elizabeth Murphy, spokesperson for the League of American Bicyclists. "Bronze usually means a city is doing excellent in one 'E' or a couple of 'E's', but there's room for improvement. In Grand Rapids, 'encouragement' is the strong 'E,' because of organized group rides, high involvement with bike month activity, the Mayor's Bike Ride, and there are several bike shops."

Tom Tilma, executive director of the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, led the extensive application process and was among the city leaders to receive the award on Tuesday.

"This puts the city on the map nationally as a place that is bicycle friendly," Tilma says. "The coveted 25- to 34-year-olds demographic is driving less and seeking communities that are bicycle, pedestrian and transit friendly."

Tilma adds that Grand Rapids has made great strides with 30 miles of bike lanes added in less than a year and half, and an increase in downtown bicycle parking. He believes the city still needs to develop a non-motorized transportation plan, create a bicycle coordinator position with the city, and promote bicycle commuting.

"The GGRBC has established a goal for the community of 2.5 percent [of bicycle commuters], which would be a five-fold increase," Tilma says. "We are seeing increases. Our fourth bicycle traffic count conducted in September 2013 showed a 36 percent increase in bicyclists over 2012."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Grand Rapids paves way for bicycle-friendly roads with bike lanes, safety grant

1.4M rides, crowded buses spur The Rapid to study bus rapid transit for Lake Michigan Dr. corridor

A record 1.4 million rides last year and crowded buses despite service every five to six minutes have prompted The Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) to find a way to improve bus route 50, its busiest route.

Bus route 50, which transports mainly Grand Valley State University college students between GVSU's downtown Grand Rapids Pew Campus and its Allendale Campus along Lake Michigan Drive, is the subject of a long-range study that will offer up answers on the feasibility of a bus rapid transit (BRT) line to serve the entire 13-plus-mile corridor.

The $600,000 study, led by URS Corporation, will take about a year, says The Rapid's long range planner Nick Monoyios. Construction has begun on the city's only BRT line, the $30 million Silver Line, which will run along Division Avenue. But it's not clear until the new study is complete whether the solution for route 50 is a BRT or something else.

"Eleven buses make 300 trips every day, crammed full of kids. The ridership has been growing exponentially since we started the service 10 years ago," Monoyios says. "We don't know if the problem is a frequency problem and we need to add more buses, which could cost more than adding longer buses that have more capacity. It's hard to pinpoint with accuracy."

The study will gather public input from riders and stakeholders, as well as riders and stakeholders of routes 7, 12, and 18, which also operate within the same corridor, says Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager. "We have [bus] stops today, but do those make the most sense, or would there be better locations? What is the best way to serve that whole corridor?"

Monoyios and Kalczuk agree that the primary goal of the study is to gather significant public input from every stakeholder, institution, and rider. Plans are underway for a number of community meetings over the next year, online tools and apps, and meetings with neighborhood associations, business leaders, and others. Information gathered will guide an advisory committee and a policy committee in determining a solution that works for the corridor.

Public meetings will be announced on The Rapid website and via the media.

Monoyios expects to have the study results by August 2014.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Megabus adds Grand Rapids to low-cost express routes between Detroit, East Lansing, Chicago

Megabus will bring its low-cost express bus service to Grand Rapids beginning July 12, with routes to and from Detroit, East Lansing and Chicago.
Megabus, a subsidiary of Coach USA, allows passengers to book seats online, which guarantees the seat and eliminates the need to stand in line to buy tickets, says President and COO Dale Moser. The service is designed with a minimal number of stops, so passengers arrive at their destination in nearly the same amount of time they could drive -- an advantage over traditional bus travel, Moser says.
"Historically, other bus companies stop eight to ten times, making a three-hour trip four-and-a-half hours, and customers didn't like that," Moser says. "We took a European approach with center city locations for drop offs, and found safe and highly visible locations close to other forms of transportation. We also offer free Wi-Fi on our buses."
The Grand Rapids pick-up/drop-off location is the parking area on the southwest corner of Wealthy St. SW and Market Avenue SW, diagonally across from the Amtrak station and a short walk to The Rapid central station.
A quick check on trip prices came back with tickets as low as $12 round-trip to Chicago, with the most expensive prices at $17 for the same trip (July 12 arrival and departure) and arrival times just over three hours. A ride to and from Detroit was $12 on the low end and $16 on the high end, with travel time to Detroit of 3 hrs. 15 mins.
Moser says Megabus serves over 90 cities, nationwide.
Source: Dale Moser, Megabus.com
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids' historic Sixth Street Bridge to get physically fit for summer (and beyond)

It has a tiny case of the shakes and it clunks loudly under "wheel," but for being one of Grand Rapids' oldest residents (126 years), the Sixth Street Bridge is in pretty good shape for the shape it's in. But getting it physically fit for its next decades of auto, bike and foot traffic is going to be a big part of the bridge's summer schedule.

According to HistoricBridges.org, the Massillon Bridge Company of Massillon, OH constructed the Sixth Street Bridge in 1886, and it was rehabbed in 1978. Beginning May 14, a new $1,989,000 rehabilitation will close the bridge until August 17.

"The deck of the bridge is in very poor condition; it's been asphalted and, underneath that, I think it's actually wood," says Jeff McCaul, assistant city engineer. "The new deck will put steel beam stringers underneath with a steel grid deck on top of those, and seven inches of lightweight concrete on top of that."

In addition, the rehabbed bridge will sport new wood plank sidewalks, new "rub rails," new tuckpointing on the piers, and a new brick roadway between Front St. NW and the bridge.
During the rehabilitation, vehicular traffic will be detoured south to Bridge St. NW, pedestrian traffic across the river will be detoured north to Leonard St., and pedestrian traffic on the east riverwalk will be redirected to the east side of Monroe Avenue.

The project received funding from a Michigan Department of Transportation grant, the Downtown Development Authority and Street Capital funds. MDOT awarded the project bid to
Walter Toebe Construction Company.

Source: Press release and Jeff McCaul, City of Grand Rapids
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

It may not be paradise, but Grand Rapids' Creston area will have its own islands

When we think of islands with trees fluttering in the breeze and lots of water, we probably don't picture Grand Rapids' Creston business district. But after receiving a $146,667 Transportation Enhancement grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation, Creston is moving forward with plans to bring seven water quality islands (with trees) to its main thoroughfare.

Seven small water-retention islands with trees and native plants will be located at intervals down the center of Plainfield Avenue NE, between Leonard and Dean streets. The islands will create a boulevard and will serve several purposes: to capture and retain stormwater runoff to keep pollutants from running into the Grand River, to slow traffic through the business district, to make the area pedestrian-friendly and to beautify the business district in order to attract shoppers and new businesses.

The islands will be installed this summer in conjunction with a sewer separation and resurfacing project, says Creston Neighborhood Association Executive Director Deborah Eid.

"This particular design for boulevards is unique," Eid says. "This is the only project in the state, as far as I know, that has these islands, so we could get some statewide attention from that."

Eid says the City of Grand Rapids, Creston Neighborhood and Business Associations, and The North Quarter Steering Committee worked together to incorporate construction of the water quality islands into MDOT's plan for resurfacing the roadway. The work is part of the larger master plan for the Creston area and fulfills some of the vision of the Green Grand Rapids plan.

In order to qualify for the MDOT grant, community partners raised some $158,000 in just 40 days, which includes funding of a 20-year endowment fund for maintenance of the islands.

The public is invited to a meeting and pancake breakfast to discuss the project with city engineers and a landscape designer from Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, the company handling the landscape design. The meeting is March 10, 8:30 to 11:00 a.m., Second Congregational Church, 525 Cheshire Dr. NE. Adults: $6; Kids 5 to 12 yrs. $3; 4 yrs. and under FREE. Family price: $15.

Source: Deborah Eid, Creston Neighborhood Association
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids appoints task force to identify solutions for city's street crisis

The Grand Rapids City Commission has appointed a Sustainable Streets Task Force to identify solutions for what a city press release identifies as "the City's street crisis."

The city reports that its general operating fund will run out of money for streets in fiscal year 2014. The Sustainable Streets Task Force's recommendations will guide the city's Transformation Investment Plan in development of investment recommendations in the face of drastically reduced funding that will cover the cost of work on main thoroughfares only unless other funding sources or budget realignments are identified.

The task force consists of some 40 business and community leaders, including three city commissioners, many of whom participated in the 21st Century Infrastructure Task Force a decade ago.

"The hope is that they will be able to provide multiple recommendations to the city commission that cover everything from level of service, the quality of our streets and benchmarks for quality, and also funding ideas to support that level of quality," says Planning Director Suzanne Schulz.

"It's not a good situation to be in, and one we don't want to be in, but the state has cut $100 million in tax revenue sharing, and we're trying to support police and fire services, street lighting; it's been a really tough policy decision," Schulz says. "The general fund should be putting in $3 million to $4 million for streets. It put in $3 million last year, is putting in about $1.5 million this year, and will go down to zero [for streets] in 2014."

Schulz says a couple of big concerns are that the general fund money has been used in the past as matching grant funding to leverage grants, and that the project to separate the storm and sanitary sewers, which provided funding for some new streets in conjunction with that work, is drawing to a close.

The task force will meet twice a month and will make a state of the streets presentation to the city commission on May 15. Community meetings in May and June will provide information to the public. Over the summer, the task force will investigate alternatives and possible solutions and will take the information to the community for ideas and feedback in the fall, followed by a final presentation to the City Commission by December.

Editor's Note: A few days after completing the interview for this article, reporter Deborah Johnson Wood received and accepted an invitation to sit on the Sustainable Streets Task Force.

Source: Suzanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids Planning Department
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

$32 Million Transit Operations Center Set To Roll

Doubling the number of transit riders in 10 years requires a lot of planning and some large investments in infrastructure. And with riders on The Rapid reaching a record high of 10.8 Million in the last year, a greatly enhanced and larger operations center could not have come at a better time.

The Rapid, Grand Rapids' transit authority, marked the opening of its newly renovated $32 Million Wealthy Operations Center this past week. The three-year project was made possible with a combination of $10.7 Million in Federal stimulus money and $17 Million in Federal transportation funding dollars.

To mark the occasion, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Senator Carl Levin made a special visit to participate in the ribbon cutting. As Ray LaHood pointed out, "The $10 Million for this project that came from Federal stimulus dollars did exactly what it was supposed to do: create jobs."

Carl Levin spoke about the reputation for collaboration in the area, saying, "West Michigan is known for working together. The biggest example of this is the 6 cities and suburban areas that make up the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP), a feat that the Detroit area has not been able to accomplish."

The renovation project doubled the size of the old operations center to approximately 280,000 square feet, providing space for a much larger fleet (over 150 busses) and for future expansion of services. With the design work of ProgressiveAE and construction management from The Christman Companies, many "green" features were added to the building including large skylights to greatly reduce the need for artificial lighting, a 40,000-square-foot green roof (the largest in West Michigan), a water reclamation system for bus washing that saves 9 million gallons of water a year, and 95% of construction and demolition materials being diverted from landfills.

The facility also contains operations staff, driver training facilities and will soon house an on-site fitness room.

Writer: Jeff Hill
Source: Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transport; Carl Levin, Senator; Jennifer Kalczuk, The Rapid

Florida, Muskegon air services to bring private hangar, in-flight catering services to Ford Airport

Muskegon-based Rothbury Executive Air could soon bring a $7 million transient air terminal to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport -- facilities complete with West Michigan's first in-flight catering kitchen.

The 37,000-square-foot terminal will include banquet facilities, flight crew sleep rooms and showers, and an antique car showroom for visitors to enjoy. But developers say the most important amenity could be the 2,400-square-foot catering kitchen operated by Florida-based Silver Lining Inflight Catering to provide private and corporate clients with meal services ranging from light snacks to complete formal dinners for consumption onsite or in-air.

The project is the result of a new partnership between Rothbury Executive Air and Silver Lining Inflight Catering, which prompted Silver Lining to launch its first venture outside Florida, says Alison Albright of Rothbury Executive Air.

"Catering is a huge business in private aviation -- the standards and quality have to be a much higher scale, and we found that Silver Lining has what we wanted to bring to Grand Rapids," Albright says. "There is no other facility of this type at the airport."

"It's a 24/7/365 operation," says Terry Boer of Executive Air Transport, the entity that will manage the facility. "Our facility will be the gateway into West Michigan. Customers will arrive in private airplanes to meet with local businesses, and our ramp agents will take care of the aircraft and fuel them, do flight planning, wait for customers and passengers to return, and will order catering through us for their arrival or return flight."

Plans call for a groundbreaking in May, with completion of the facility in late fall. A private investment company is developing the project, Boer says, but he declined to name the investors.

"This facility brings a lot of new services to the airport that aren't being offered," he says. "We're going to meet the needs of the airline community through the catering and our ability to house larger aircraft in the hangar."

Source: Alison Albright, Rothbury Executive Air; Terry Boer, Executive Air Transport
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

The Rapid adds new late night bus hours to accommodate riders

The results of a millage increase approved by voters in May 2011 are on the road this week in the form of late night bus runs on The Rapid and other expanded services, including Quick Response Code (QR Code) signage at some stops. Riders with QR code readers on their phones can scan the code to get real-time transit tracking for that route.

The Rapid, Grand Rapids' transit system, says all fixed routes are now running until 11:15 p.m. on weekdays, until 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and every 30 minutes on weekdays between 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. The only exceptions are the Woodland/Airport route 17, and 44th St. route 44.

In addition, the seven busiest routes will run until 12:15 a.m. Monday through Friday with 30-
minute service, Grand Valley State University's route 50 will extend to Rapid Central Station on weekday evenings from  6:45 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., and the GO!Bus on-demand service for senior citizens and disabled persons will run until 12:15 a.m. weekdays.

"This is just the first round of changes," says Jennifer Kalczuk, The Rapid spokesperson. "Between now and August all fixed routes will be impacted. More routes operating in the evening mean so much more access for riders to second and third shift jobs, as well as access to entertainment and social options."

Kalczuk says ridership has more than doubled since 2000, showing growth even in years when there were no new ridership options. One of those years was 2011 when ridership jumped 10.7 percent, despite no increase in services says Kalczuk.

For more information, click here or call 616.776.1100. Schedules are posted at each stop.

Source: Jennifer Kalczuk, The Rapids
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Proposed $4.65M Amtrak Station could be Grand Rapids' ticket to Midwest connections

The Pere Marquette train already connects Grand Rapids with Chicago twice a day. But with a clumsy turnaround to pick up and drop off passengers, trains stopping traffic and an outdated Amtrak station that is blocks from other public transit, ease of use isn't a phrase that springs to mind.

Construction of a proposed $4.65M Amtrak station adjacent to The Rapid Central Station (250 Grandville Ave. SW) would bring the train into a modern station where passengers are just a short walk to regional and city buses, taxi services and the city itself.

Work has entered the conceptual stage, says The Rapid CEO Peter Varga, with design and engineering recently awarded to Bergmann Associates who have retained Progressive AE, the design firm behind the eye-catching Rapid Central Station. Varga expects to award the contract for construction of the new Amtrak station and rail spur this fall.

"I think we could break ground in the fall sometime, but it's not decided, yet," Varga says. "I think it might take a couple of years to construct, we don't know yet, not having completed the design and engineering."

The new station will move from the current tracks at Market Avenue and Wealthy St. SW to an area directly south of The Rapid Central Station near Wealthy St. SW and US-131. Varga says The Rapid owns the property from Central Station south to Logan St. SW.

A $3.8M Federal Railroad Administration grant and an $850,000 allocation by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority will cover the cost of the new station, loading platform and a rail spur from near Logan St. SW and US-131, north to the station.

"This was always part of the plan," Varga says. "This is the fifth stage of that plan, the first four were working on central station, and now we're working to improve the ability to use rail and connect to transit."

Source: Peter Varga, The Rapid
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

City's green transformation well underway even as Green Grand Rapids seeks final approvals

The ink hadn't even been placed on the page, let alone had time to dry, before Grand Rapids organizations and individual residents started the "green" transformation of different aspects of the city. And now, four years after planning began, Green Grand Rapids, an environmental and sustainable update to the city's 2002 Master Plan, has been approved by the Grand Rapids Planning Commission and moved to the City Commission for review at its March 22 meeting.

Green Grand Rapids wrapped up by mid-2009, says Planning Director Suzanne Schulz, but there was a lag getting it compiled into a comprehensive document because "we were busy implementing the plan. We wanted to continue the momentum that was underway."

Schulz cites several projects that are part of that momentum:
• Expansion of Joe Taylor Park spearheaded by Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.
• Proposed transformation of an unused parking lot into Pleasant Park at the corner of Madison Avenue SE and Pleasant St. SE.
Grand Rapids White Water's proposed creation of a white water kayak course on the Grand River through downtown.
• Investigation of possible new stormwater management processes headed up by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.
• A proposed Complete Streets plan being studied and developed in conjunction with the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition.

"If we're looking to attract the creative class, they choose where they want to live first, then worry about finding a job," Schulz says. "So the quality of life items are critically important to us, and include retention of what we already have so people who are already here want to stay here. The questions arise: where do we make the changes, when, and how? The Master Plan is the how."

Schulz says 1,800 residents participated in developing the plan, with a 30-member steering committee that kept the focus on five areas: natural systems, greening, connections, the Grand River and local food.

She expects city commissioners to approve distribution of the plan document to city and Kent County stakeholders for a final approval process that will wrap up in about five months.

Source: Suzanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids Planning Director
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Long awaited $15M Wealthy/Jefferson development project ready to move ahead in Grand Rapids

A decade-long plan to redevelop three forlorn city blocks in south Grand Rapids into affordable housing, retail and an urban grocery store is once again rolling forward with plans to break ground before June 1.

The first construction phase of the Wealthy-Jefferson Neighborhood Initiative will spur some $15 million in mixed-use development that will bring retail, 50 apartments and a small condo project to the city block bounded by Wealthy St. (north), LaGrave Avenue (east), Sheldon Avenue (west) and Logan St. (south).

Property owner, Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF), a nonprofit affordable-housing developer, cleared the block and most of two adjoining blocks of decrepit buildings some years ago. The organization has committed to constructing two new buildings thus far, both of which will be built along Wealthy St. between Sheldon and LaGrave.

The initiative's later phases will add a 28,000-square-foot urban grocery store and more housing to the remaining properties, says Jonathan Bradford, ICCF CEO.

Negotiations with an unnamed local grocer are underway, says Bradford, adding that he's "confident that it will go through."

"About 1999, a then-city commissioner proposed the clear cutting of six whole blocks to convert them into an industrial zone," Bradford says. "Neighborhood associations, churches and ICCF fought that and stopped it. A committee studied how to recapture the diversity this neighborhood once had. In 1912, the area had 4,744 people and only about 900 people in 2000."

Bradford says a key motivator was the "resuscitation" of Wealthy St. between Division and Lafayette in 2008. That project, in essence, laid the groundwork for the rest of what is to come.
Bradford envisions an explosion of private retail investment around the Wealthy St. roundabouts.

The proposed Bus Rapid Transit system route passes the development along its north and south boundaries, providing riders with opportunities to stop off and pick up groceries or items from the retail shops, then board the next coach for home or work.

Bradford says Brownfield Authority Tax Credits are under consideration. The project's funding comes, in part, from $5.2 million awarded through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2, which will be taken off the table unless construction begins by June 1.

Site plan and design are by nationally renowned development designer Seth Harry of Woodbine, MD. Integrated Architecture is the architect of record for the first two buildings along Wealthy St. Progressive AE is the civil engineer.

Source: Jonathan Bradford, CEO, Inner City Christian Federation
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
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