West Michigan is surpassing any other region in the state in population growth. We are uniquely positioned to continue to grow not only in people but in industries, jobs, housing, greenspace, tourism and entertainment.
But big things don’t happen by accident. Numerous community and business leaders must partner together to capitalize on this opportunity to promote our growth, attraction, increased quality of life and prosperity for residents, employees and job-providers.
We must continue to highlight the important next steps of the large-scale, catalytic projects in West Michigan. These projects will jumpstart significant new economic opportunities, attract investment in associated and ancillary developments, and support other community needs investments utilizing the benefits of increased tax revenue, new jobs and community vibrancy.
The most significant of these projects have an estimated economic impact of over $170 million annually, providing new tourism amenities and supporting opportunities for the people that live here. (Devos Place, Van Andel Arena and DeVos Performance Hall generated $82 million in local economic impact in FY2018-19)
In order to keep making progress in West Michigan, our infrastructure needs to grow with the community. The best path forward is for the community to share its united support for these catalytic investments.
The projects on this list are ready to become a reality in West Michigan. Progress on infrastructure and amenities can happen sporadically (as evidenced by the Fruit Ridge Bridge the Chamber helped secure funding for), but coordinated efforts to keep these projects top of mind can help eliminate obstacles – whether its permitting/authorization or necessary funding.
If there is another project you’d like us to consider, contact Katie Gordon, Sr. Manager of Government Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: The development of a 12,000-seat capacity outdoor amphitheater along the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids that would be owned and operated by the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention Arena/Authority.
WHY: The proposed amphitheater is the catalyst for a larger vision to transform 31 underutilized acres of riverfront property between Fulton and Wealthy streets. The vision includes new housing units, ground-floor retail space, a public park, access to the river, nonmotorized trails and greenspace. An economic impact study shows the amphitheater is expected to generate $7 million in annual wage earnings and create $474 million in net new economic impact in Kent County over the next 30 years, including 725 new jobs.
NEXT STEPS: Acquire property by June 30, 2023, schematic design completion, business and community engagement, philanthropic capital campaign.
Grand River Restoration Project
WHAT: Remove the low-rise dams and other impediments from the Grand River to make the river more people–friendly.
WHY: The Grand River is a transformational investment in our region that will further enhance vibrancy and continue to attract visitors, businesses, and residents. Removing the dams and restoring the rapids will improve access and activation of a long-neglected natural asset, support tourism, create new business development opportunities, and support existing business near the river. These opportunities are projected to contribute $19-$26 million annually for our local economy.
NEXT STEP: Reach an agreement with state officials at EGLE and begin construction next year.
Grand River Greenway Trail
WHAT: Kent County is leading the charge to complete a 23-mile trail connection that runs through Plainfield, Cascade, Cannon, Ada, and Lowell Townships. Kent County will also build trailheads at Johnson Park and Chief Hazy Cloud Park. This project includes two crucial crossings, a tunnel under the Beltline/Northland Drive at the Rogue River Drive/7 Mile Road intersection and a bridge over the Grand River connecting Kent County’s Chief Hazy Cloud Park to Ada Township’s Roselle Park. The project connects into four significant regional trails, the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park, Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Rail Trail, North Country Trail, and Iron Belle Trail.
WHY: One of the greatest assets West Michigan offers is its outdoor recreation amenities. For decades, outdoor recreation has remained the highest priority for relocating talent in the US, second only to quality of schools. Grand River Greenway Trail represents one of the most significant gaps in the regional trail system which must be completed to realize the vision of an east to west 76-mile countywide trail along the Grand River that connects to various downtowns and over 30 parks in the region. Once completed, Kent County residents and visitors will be able to bike to Cadillac to the north, Owosso to the east, and Grand Haven/Spring Lake/Muskegon to the west, providing hundreds of miles of recreation opportunities.
NEXT STEP: Complete engineering in 2023 and start construction of trail segments in late 2023/early 2024 while continuing to fundraise.
COST: $52.8 million
Tower Relocation at Gerald R. Ford International Airport
WHAT: Relocating and building an upgraded airport tower.
WHY: The current tower is the oldest tower in the top 75 commercial service airports. The location, height of the tower, and resulting line of sight constraints are limiting terminal area expansion and additional airport investments in West Michigan.
NEXT STEP: $5 million has been appropriated for design cost. Need FAA to approve construction funding after design.
COST: $60 Million
Federal Inspection Station at Gerald R. Ford International Airport
WHAT: The airport is beginning planning phases for building a customs plaza (Federal Inspection Station) to allow for direct international travel.
WHY: GRR is an international airport today, but additional facilities and staff are required to screen arriving commercial international flights.
NEXT STEP: US Customs and Boarder Protection commitment of staffing and funding for facility construction.
COST: $30 Million
I-96 Direct Access to Gerald R. Ford International Airport from 36th Street
WHAT: This project extends the I-96/36th Street interchange south of 36th Street to create a direct roadway connection to the airport. It includes a tunnel below the current and future expanded runway and avoids the parking expansion zone on the north side of the terminal.
WHY: This access would relieve traffic entering the airport from Patterson Avenue and adds redundancy to the current airport access network. Once implemented, the new access could save approximately 4 minutes of travel time compared to the existing access from I-96/36th St and Patterson Avenue.
NEXT STEP: Preliminary design and environmental reviews. Funding for a project of this scale will rely on State and Federal transportation dollars and could be competitive for either transportation or economic development grants.
COST: $157 Million
Relocation of the Downtown Grand Rapids U.S. Post Office
WHAT: Relocation of the downtown riverfront mail processing center at 225 Michigan St. NW.
WHY: The situation is more important now as the city begins to restore the rapids in the downtown area. Undoubtedly, the community would like to see the post office site available for a new development or a possible DeVos Place expansion. New federal policies have recently been adopted that require USPS to reevaluate many of its “flats” facilities. Thus, there is currently an opportunity to maximize federal movement by providing state and local support as well.
COST: $130 Million
Creation of a new Refugee & Immigrant Health Center (RIHC)
WHAT: The new RIHC would be located on the former St. Joseph Seminary campus at 2080 Union SE In Grand Rapids. This RIHC provide a welcoming, innovative, and trauma-informed medical home for refugees and immigrants. Using a collaborative approach among community partners, community health workers, clinical therapists, and refugee services staff, the model would be effective, efficient, and sustainable.
WHY: The Kent County Welcome Plan, developed with the participation of leaders in healthcare, prioritizes increasing equitable access to services with a special focus on the unique needs of refugees. The RIHC would be a key part in meeting these needs while creating an even deeper sense of belonging for New Americans that call Kent County home.
NEXT STEP: Secure funding of $6 million.
US-131 Wealthy Street Transformation, Grand Rapids – MLK Jr to Cherry with Wealthy in the middle
WHAT: Built in the 1960s, the Wealthy Street interchange is the entrance to the US-131 S-Curve segment, which carries more than 100,000 vehicles daily through the heart of the city. The original S-Curve divided Grand Rapids – and the existing area has challenges with pedestrians, non-motorized travel, and aesthetics. The proposed redesign of the Wealthy Street interchange and the connecting freeway segment between ML King Jr. Street and Cherry Street, presents the opportunity to reconnect the East-West city street grid, reconnecting two sides of the community, and offering new, non-motorized travel options within downtown Grand Rapids.
WHY: This is one of the most economically critical stretches in the region. It is also one of the oldest, most congested and dangerous freeway sections, with the highest volumes outside of the Detroit area. Pavement and bridges need preservation work. The existing/outdated interchange ramp configuration contributes to crashes and congestion on the freeway and connecting city streets. Work is underway to develop a plan to not only improve reliability, safety and traffic flow, but to also improve pedestrian access and connectivity on local streets supporting further investment. Improvements could be coordinated with preservation work.
NEXT STEP: The State Legislature provided funding for alternative evaluation, design, utilities, impact assessment and additional public involvement. Construction funding has not been identified. MDOT and the city of Grand Rapids will finalize the preferred alternative and identify funding options.
COST: $250M, some of which will come from existing MDOT and city budgets.
West Michigan Express Pilot Project
WHAT: The West Michigan Express Initiative (WMX) is a collaborative effort to link the communities along the Chicago Drive corridor (Holland, Zeeland, Hudsonville, Grandville, and Grand Rapids) with the mobility option of commuter-based public transportation beginning with express bus service and potentially leading to a commuter rail.
WHY: The transportation corridor between Holland and Grand Rapids is the most heavily travelled journey-to-work corridor in our region, carrying over 27,000 commuters each day, primarily by personal automobile. WMX would provide multiple socio-economic benefits to our region including providing an affordable, alternative option for employees to commute to and from work, supporting local businesses and promoting tourism, reducing traffic congestion on our streets and highways, reducing carbon emissions, promoting transit-orientated development patterns in our communities, and enhancing the overall quality of life in our region.
NEXT STEP: The Rapid is pursuing federal appropriations directly for this pilot project.
WHAT: The development of an outdoor multi-use soccer stadium in the city of Grand Rapids.
WHY: Although the project is still in its conceptual phase, if completed according to plan, Grand Rapids will become home to an estimated 7,000-seat stadium. Designed to host a higher level of professional soccer than possible today, the stadium will further strengthen the city’s recreation and tourism industry. An economic impact study shows the stadium could generate more than $3.6M in annual wage earnings and create more than $231.5M net new economic impact in Kent County over the next 30 years, including 425 new jobs.
NEXT STEP: Secure a site and schematic design development.
John Ball Zoo Aquarium
WHAT: Build one of the top aquariums in the United States.
WHY: Aquariums tell the story of aquatic wildlife and wild-places and one of this size has not been built in over 20 years. The economic impact is estimated with over 1 million attendees a year, 1,080 permanent jobs created, and $125 million net new economic impact each year.
NEXT STEP: Secure location
Muskegon State Park Luge Park Visitor Infrastructure Improvements
WHAT: This expansion will alleviate the current congestion and provide sufficient guest services and parking space to handle current capacity and planned improvements. The proposed lodge expansion will include the addition of 3,300 sq. ft. including new accessible restrooms and guest service areas. Also included are 300 improved parking spaces.
WHY: The Muskegon Luge and Adventure Sports Park saw over 45,000 visitors in 2022. The facility has faced severe overcrowding due to the insufficient restrooms and parking spaces. These improvements will enhance the facility and trailhead’s safety, functionality and aesthetics.
NEXT STEP: Secure $1.95 million in funding.
Freeman Ave. Crossing
WHAT: Reconnecting Freeman Ave. at the West End of the industrial area to reroute truck traffic to the West on to Market Ave and to I-196. This reconnection will require crossing the CSX railway.
WHY: Today, hundreds of full-sized 53’ tractor trailers traverse up and down the hall St hairpin switch back, traveling in and out of the southern industrial area of the Black Hills in Grand Rapids. This current route is not only dangerous for drivers, it is extremely dangerous for elementary school children that attend Cesar E. Chavez elementary school at the top of hall St and Cesar E. Chavez Ave. If accomplished, will dramatically improve driver safety, child safety around an elementary school, and reroute truck traffic out of residential neighborhoods.
NEXT STEP: Further evaluate the grade separated option and determine if it is possible to build an at-grade crossing of the railroad, for substantially less cost.
COST: At least $17 Million for a grade-separated bridge over the CSX railroad.