New director hired in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – With a new voter-approved parks tax set to take effect in July, the city is drafting an asset management plan to guide spending of the estimated $4 million annual intake.

The man to oversee that spending: Creighton Wright.

Grand Rapids on Thursday, April 17, announced that Wright has been hired as the city’s new parks and recreation director. Wright “did well in the hot seat” during a public forum last month with two other finalists, City Manager Greg Sundstrom said.

“This guy was highly qualified. His resume was very good. He also interviewed very well with us,” Sundstrom said. “He seems to be highly innovative.”

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Grand Rapids started seeking a parks and recreation director after city voters in November OK’d a 0.98-mill parks tax that will cost $49 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home and generate an estimated $30 million over seven years. That money will get collected starting in July, and the City Commission this spring authorized a $300,000 advance to get an inventory of park assets underway.

The money, to be repaid with proceeds from the parks millage, also will open three city swimming pools this year in June – three weeks earlier than past years. The pools will stay open a couple weeks later, too, extending the swimming season from seven weeks to 12.

But new splash pads will not be installed this summer. Any major capital projects are on hold, pending the asset inventory.

“The new parks director will be leading a master-planning process and that’s when we’ll really figure out what are our needs as a community, what’s our long-term vision,” said Christopher Reader, past chairman of the city’s parks board. “We want to be really wise about capital investments and have a plan.”

Grand Rapids also is working up a list of fixes for swings, slides and other equipment in city parks.

“They’re going to come back with an extensive evaluation of the current state (of equipment in city parks),” Reader said. “This first year we’re really going to hit problem areas, things that are broken, things where if we don’t do the maintenance it will cost us more (later).”

Wright is the current parks and recreation director for the city of American Canyon, which is north of Oakland near Napa, Calif. He previously was parks and recreation director in Pueblo, Colo. and an assistant parks and recreation director in Queen Creek, Ariz. near Phoenix.

“I consider myself a consultative visionary in my approach to work,” Wright said in a prepared statement released by the city. “I look forward to bringing back the city’s past excellence in parks and recreation services and facilities.”

Wright is scheduled to begin work in Grand Rapids on July 7. He will be paid a salary of about $103,000 per year, Sundstrom said.

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