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FRIDAY, Aug. 23 — Gone is the drab and dreary concrete jungle riverfront next to the City Market. In its place resides the vibrant and colorful Rotary Park, complete with sun sails, outdoor furniture, a massive beach and event space for Lansingites to live out the tail-end of the sweet summer season.
Four months since its groundbreaking, the finishing touches are being put on the new park, a span of redeveloped riverfront from the Shiawassee Street Bridge to the Lansing Center along the Grand River. It will officially open on Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting.
Most striking of the redesign is a sandy beach made with thousands of pounds of sand, an LED-lighted forest and the sun sail canopy. The park will also have a new kayak boat launch, a towering brick fireplace and an event space called HUB, short for “Happening Under the Bridge.”
The Capital Region Community Foundation embarked on the “placemaking” initiative for the riverfront space in 2017, researching developed riverfronts around the country. The goal of placemaking is to create public spaces that promote people's health, happiness and well-being.
“In 2017, not many people were familiar with placemaking. We looked at San Antonio, what Detroit and Chicago were doing with their riverfronts. We also looked at two other community foundations involved with placemaking in Port Huron and Muskegon,” Capital Region Community Foundation executive vice president Laurie Baumer said.
“We figured why reinvent the wheel? Let’s pick what we like from all these different places to make the biggest impact.”
Pitching the Lansing community its idea, the foundation matched $1 million in funding from 11 donors. The Rotary Club of Lansing Foundation was the largest, at $400,000, earning it naming rights.
Other donors were Delta Dental, $250,000; Dewpoint Inc., $100,000; Auto-Owners Insurance, $75,000; Red Cedar Investment Management, $40,000; Gillespie Group and Team Lansing Foundation at the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, $30,000 each; and four individuals who each gave $60,000. The Lansing Board of Water & Light and Wieland, the construction contractor, provided in-kind donations.
“It is going to take a lot more than Rotary Park to completely change things about the riverfront downtown,” Baumer added. “We believe in the placemaking term ‘string of pearls,’ where many parts work together to improve the whole.”
According to Baumer, the foundation is looking at a potential 13 more projects on the riverfront from the Brenke Fish Ladder to Interstate 496.
“Depending on who else steps forward and how much more money we raise, we can keep going with a string of pearls down the river along with the gem of the River Trail running throughout.”
The total investment for Lansing’s riverfront projects is near $3 million including Rotary Park, Baumer said.
The beach will not have water access for swimming due to high levels of E. coli bacteria in the river, particularly after rainfall.
“We are not encouraging people to come in. We are realistic about the quality of the water, but are more interested in its aesthetic value,” Baumer said. “We have a beautiful river that no one can even see half the time.”
Groups like Lansing 5:01 have already expressed interest in using the new park, she added. “I think Parks & Rec is going to have its hands full.”
UPDATE: The ribbon-cutting has been pushed to Wednesday.