Heritage Hill residents asked to help design park plan Saturday

by Jim Harger, The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS — Heritage Hill residents hope an old parking lot eventually will be turned into a much-needed neighborhood park.

But first there has to be a plan.

“The No. 1 comment has been: ‘We just want a place where kids can
kick around a soccer ball,'” said Jan Earl, executive director of the
Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association. The neighborhood has only three
pocket parks, she said.

A preliminary plan for the 2.25-acre site will be developed Saturday
during an all-day “design charette” at First Christian Reformed Church,
650 Bates Ave. SE.

Neighbors with suggestions for the site are invited to stop by
between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Landscape architects will present a
preliminary design at 6 p.m.

City Parks and Recreation Director Jay Steffen said they hope to
complete the plan by spring and add it to the city’s recreational
master plan.

Once the site is included in the master plan, Steffen said the city
will qualify for grants from the Michigan Natural Trust Fund, which
receives royalties from gas and oil wells on state land.

The site at Madison Avenue and Pleasant Street SE was last used for
parking by Kent County’s Department of Human Services. It fell into
city hands recently as part of a land swap between the city and county.

Earl said the land originally was part of an estate built in 1861 by
lumber baron Elmer Dennis. The land was sold to Grand Rapids Christian
Schools in 1955 after Dennis’ last heir died.

After tearing down the Dennis house, the school used the land for a
running track. Kent County converted the track to a parking lot after
it purchased the land and nearby Grand Rapids Christian High School in
the early 1970s.

The asphalt parking lot may still have a cinder running track
beneath its surface, Steffen said. That’s good news because the track
may then qualify for Brownfield redevelopment dollars that will help
pay for the cleanup, he said.

* South Hill Neighborhood and Friends of GR Parks are additional partners hosting the design charrette.  The park actually sits half in Heritage Hill and half in South Hill.

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