Grand Rapids’ ‘Mystery Project’ site again targeted for development

The city-owned property at 201 Market Avenue in Grand Rapids that city officials want to turn into a mixed-use development. (Courtesy JLL/Feb. 2, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids City Hall is calling on developers with a vision to turn the city public works yard at 201 Market Avenue SW into a place where people can live and play.

The site is currently home to Grand Rapids’ plows and salt piles.

201 Market Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
The Grand River as seen from 201 Market Ave. SW in Grand Rapids. (Feb. 2, 2017)

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss says the city wants to see a creative mixed-use, mixed income development that builds on the natural asset of the site: the Grand River.

“For years, really our entire history as a city, we turned our backs to the river,” said Bliss. “There’s been a lot of people talking about this amazing site that’s along the river. It’s a huge site.”

A site that’s 15.8 acres, to be exact.

201 Market Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
The Grand River as seen from 201 Market Ave. SW in Grand Rapids. (Feb. 2, 2017)

But there’s a failure from the past the city needs to overcome: a proposal once dubbed the “Mystery Project.”

“Yeah, this is definitely not that. This will be a very open process,” said Bliss.

Bliss was elected as a ward commissioner a year before Atlanta developer Duane Faust pitched his plan for a multi-million dollar development in 2006. It was called the Mystery Project mainly because no one at City Hall was discussing details, like the viability of the plan and taxpayer risk if the property sale was approved.

As time went on, the grandiose project that seemed too good to be true turned out to be just that. It all fell apart.

After the Mystery Project failed, Faust returned to Grand Rapids in 2010 with “River Grand,” which was a slightly smaller plan that included a metro subway, a hydrogen energy plant and a huge mixed-use complex on the same site.

This project was to be financed through a federal Build America program. However, city officials decided the numbers didn’t add up.

City leaders eventually admitted their mistakes with the Mystery Project when it came to transparency.

“I do think we learned a lot of lessons and I think the biggest one is this is a community asset and the community needs to be involved,” said Bliss. “As long as we communicate well, share information, make sure everything is open and transparent, my hope is the community will get behind it.”

This time around, the city is asking for proof of ability before they’ll accept specific proposals.

Those request for qualifications are due at the end of March.

And if a plan from Faust comes in?

“I’m not sure how I would respond if there was something with his name on it,” said Bliss with a laugh. “(It) probably wouldn’t be too welcomed here.”

The city, through commercial real estate firm JLL, is asking qualified development teams to apply on the project’s website, www.201Market.com.

Responses to the request for qualifications are due on March 31. The city will then pick some of those developers to submit proposals for the property. The request for proposals is expected to be released in mid-2017.