GR Parks group becomes more than friends

by Joe LaFurgey Published: Updated:

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department,  practically dormant these last few years due to budget cuts, is alive again.

The millage voters approved last fall is providing funding to fix up and build new parks.

But efforts to find a director for the department have not been successful.

The city hired a person from California last spring. He told them thanks, but no thanks before he was scheduled to start.

“It’s going to be some time before we have a park director in place, but we also have issues brewing that we feel we can’t wait any longer,” Grand Rapids Community Services Managing Director Connie Bohatch told city commissioners Tuesday.

Enter Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

“We’ve been in a position over the last five years where we’ve worked really diligently with the community on a number of different issues and getting more people involved with parks and public spaces,” Friends of Grand Rapids Parks Executive Director Steve Faber said.

The citizens’ group formed in 2008 to help get parks back in shape. Its website says the organization works with but is separate from city hall.

Until Tuesday, that is.

A $25,000 contract approved by city commissioners  will allow the group to essentially become the project manager on park projects, guiding the master plan process for a number of the city’s 74 parks and public spaces.  FGRP EDIT: Our contract with the City of Grand Rapids to assist with 8 upcoming park plans in neighborhoods over the next 6 months.

The state requires a master plan for the grants it hands out. City hall wants to make sure funds from the parks millage are spent the right way.

City leaders admit it’s a unique arrangement.

While Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has been an independent group that doesn’t answer directly to city hall, it is now like any contractor hired by the city. That means there will be plenty of city oversight.

“I think anybody that goes out and visits our parks or visits a swimming pool, those are really tangible ways that they can already see their dollars going to great things,” Faber said.


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