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The next big thing: Downtown's hottest projects

From river restoration to expanded transportation options and from brewpubs to apartment towers, big things are happening downtown. We asked, you answered, and now the results are in from last week's reader poll. Read on to find out which downtown projects your fellow Grand Rapidians are the most excited about.
More than 350 readers responded to last week's poll asking you what your favorite downtown project is (either underway or on the drawing board).

The overwhelming response indicates that there's big interest in downtown continuing to increase its vibrancy, expand transit, add amenities, and attract new residents. But most notably, reader enthusiasm was focused on one of the city's largest resources: the Grand River.

Of the 13 projects that readers had to choose from, here are the top three:

#1) Grand River rapids restoration

GRWW Preliminary Plans

Otherwise called Grand Rapids Whitewater, community activists Chip Richards and Chris Muller are working with local, state and federal governments to return the mighty rapids back to the Grand River in downtown.

During Grand Rapids' 19th century industrial past, the Grand River was tamed and harnessed to power the hundreds of furniture factories that dotted the Grand River valley. The 18-foot elevation drop of the river that happens over a mile stretch in downtown Grand Rapids now includes multiple dams and stepped drops, most notably the 6th Street Dam. The plans call for most of the smaller dams to be removed, approximately half of 6th Street dam to be removed and the remainder lowered three feet, recovery of the original riverbed, and thousands of tons of boulders added to the river to return it to its pre-19th century natural state. According to planners, doing this will create a myriad of recreational activities, including kayaking runs, bedrock splashpools and new parks, all while enhancing the urban fishing in the Grand River (which has been rated one of the best urban fisheries in the country).

Current status: Grand Rapids Whitewater has teamed up with GR Forward, a community input initiative by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. that is currently working on a river corridor comprehensive plan. In addition, GRWW released an economic impact study in September that showed a $15 - $19 million economic boost per year for downtown. Engineering studies are underway, and in 2013 the project received support from the EPA and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.

#2) Venue Tower at The BOB

Many ideas have come and gone over the years regarding the large parking lot that sits next to The BOB at the corner of Ottawa and Fulton. Gilmore Group, owners of the The BOB, has owned the land since 2008, with ideas that have ranged from a complex of multiple towers, to an entertainment complex called Bobville.

Now Orion Construction, developers of Arena Place and other recent projects popping up around the city, has partnered with Greg Gilmore and is proposing a 20-story residential tower connected to a four-story addition to The BOB.

Current status: according to John Wheeler of Orion, the financing package is complete and has been delivered to the city, and engineering work and tax credit incentive review are both in process. The goal is to have the Venue Tower built and ready for leasing approximately six months after Arena Place opens (another project being developed by Orion south of the arena).

Conversely, according to Greg Gilmore, work is proceeding forward with final plans to the city due in January 2015 with a groundbreaking goal of June 2015. He says work on The BOB addition will be compete about a year prior to the completion of the tower.

#3) Tie: New Holland Brewing Company and the Downtown Streetcar

New Holland Brewing Company

Most people in Grand Rapids have heard by now that New Holland Brewing Company announced recently that they will expand into Grand Rapids, anchoring a $17 million development on Bridge Street on the West Side with a brewpub and distilled spirits tasting room. Apparently that has Grand Rapidians excited for the future of the Bridge Street corridor and for downtown's continued transformation, landing this project in the top three in a statistical tie with the downtown streetcar plan.

Current status: Rockford Construction officials say demolition of the existing buildings will begin soon, with plans to have New Holland's portion of the project completed by late 2015. The residential and office portion of the project is planned for a 2016 completion.

Downtown Streetcar

Former Mayor John Logie has been one of the biggest champions for bringing a modern streetcar to downtown Grand Rapids, and with an injection of funding from The Rapid, the streetcar study that was shelved back in 2008 during the recession has been revived. The proposed three-mile, $80 million streetcar loop from The Rapid's Central Station up to 6th Street and back would resemble projects in Portland, Tampa, and one currently under construction in downtown Cincinnati.

Current status: transportation planning company HDR Inc has been hired to perform a $293,000 study to update the original streetcar plan designed back in 2008. Once that has been completed, the downtown streetcar task force plans to work on possible funding sources.

Honorable Mention: MSU biotech facility at the old Grand Rapids Press site

MSU land on Michigan Street near its main campus

Many readers picked this project as one of the most exciting to see in downtown. In recent years, Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine made a bold investment to expand in downtown, buying up large chunks of land previously owned by the Grand Rapids Press, including the old Press headquarters at Monroe and Michigan Street, riverfront land along Monroe Avenue, and parking lots in Monroe North. The university, in partnership with a yet-to-be-determined development company, plans to construct a new 145,000-square-foot biotechnology facility on half the Michigan Street site, with the remainder of the property available for residential, commercial and/or retail in what they are hoping will be a downtown campus-like setting.

Current status: An RFQ (Request for Quote) for the entire development project was issued in April of 2014. An RFP (Request for Proposal) was issued in June with three public-private partnership (P3) companies expressing interest in developing the site, with the review process lasting through the latter part of 2014. According to Geri Kelley at MSU - CHM, the Board of Trustees is expected to make a recommendation to move forward in December 2014, with completion of at least the MSU - CHM portion in late 2017.

Depending on what the proposed project looks like in December, it may jump to the #1 spot.
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