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Marking the next chapter

Alex Doty • Sep 29, 2017 at 10:00 AM

The next evolution of Grand Haven’s waterfront will begin today when the long-awaited redevelopment of Waterfront Stadium officially begins.

The city will host a brief groundbreaking ceremony at 3:30 p.m. at the site of what will become the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium. The site is where the current aging bleachers are.

The new $3.2 million stadium — a cost which will be covered by charitable donations and a state grant — marks the latest chapter in a series of riverfront redevelopments and improvements for Grand Haven that have taken place over the past five decades. These improvements have ranged from the initial waterfront redevelopments in the 1960s and ‘70s, to more recent improvements and reinvestments such as preservation of the Coal Tipple, and reinvestment in the boardwalk, lighthouses, Musical Fountain, and pier and catwalk.

The Past

Dave Seibold’s book, “Grand Haven: In the Path of Destiny,” provides some insight into the history of the waterfront and what’s led up to today’s redevelopment.

In August 1962, the Loutit Foundation provided a $15,000 grant for construction of the Musical Fountain. That initial grant set a theme of waterfront beautification that became the focus of the foundation for the next decade.

The Musical Fountain, together with the Whitey White Water Show, showcased the need for better seating along the waterfront, which finally debuted in 1968 along with the Showmobile portable band shell. The fountain and water ski show also showed the need for a total rejuvenation of the waterfront. 

According to Seibold, the city and the foundation worked closely on the riverfront redevelopment. He highlights the reuse of the Grand Trunk Depot as an example of their collaboration.

Grand Trunk Railroad had stopped passenger rail service to Grand Haven in 1955. In the spring of 1964, the city increased pressure on Grand Trunk officials to sell the depot.

“The sprucing up of the depot waterfront by the Coast Guard and the spectator draw of the Water Thrill Show and Musical Fountain may or may not have influenced the thinking of the Grand Trunk officials, but by 1967 the terms of vacating the railroad holdings had been finalized,” Seibold wrote. “With a $50,000 grant from the Loutit Foundation, the city purchased the depot and surrounding property from Grand Trunk for $66,375.”

By 1969, the Loutit Foundation had acquired or had a hand in helping to acquire all of the riverfront property from the south channel to Government Basin; and by 1973, clean-up, landscaping and placement of 1,300 feet of sheet-piling seawall began.

“The total cost to the foundation for acquisition of the riverfront property, clean-up, landscaping and seawall construction was $675,000,” noted Seibold. “Upon completion, all the land was turned over to the city. In addition, another $218,000 was expended as improvements continued through the Sesquicentennial in 1984.”

In all, the Loutit Foundation made possible the following: the Musical Fountain, with its initial showing in 1962; the Tri-Cities Historical Museum in the depot building in 1972; Municipal Marina in 1972; upgrade of the Musical Fountain and Christmas Creche 1972; Bicentennial Park that was dedicated in 1976; and the boardwalk and Lighthouse Connector Park, and Ferry Landing with its sundial and brass anaglyph of the Grand River that debuted during the 1984 Sesquicentennial.

The Future

”They’ve been talking about this for many years,” City Manager Pat McGinnis said. “There’ve been a number of plans that have been floated in the past.”

Fast-forward to late 2012 and early 2013 when McGinnis said the ball began to roll on making significant changes to the stadium.

Stakeholder and community meetings took place for people to give input on what they wanted to see in a new stadium, and eventually a preliminary concept was developed based on those gathered ideas, which was once again presented to the community for refinement before it was sent on to City Council.

“In 2014, we got City Council buy-in and approval, and they voted unanimously to move forward with the design,” McGinnis said.

The new stadium will have tiered grass seating, volleyball playing surface, seasonal ice rink, areas for dancing, a permanent band shell, winter fire pits, concession stand, flagpoles and other amenities.

The new stadium is named for Lynne Sherwood, a local philanthropist who died in 2016. Sherwood and her family have been philanthropic supporters of the community for decades.

“Lynne Sherwood had a hand in supporting every significant fundraising initiative that has happened in our community during the last 15-20 years,” said Holly Johnson, president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. "It's fitting that last year's $3 million gift from her estate helped kick off the stadium redevelopment project."

Earlier this summer, City Council approved a grant agreement with the state to receive $280,000 from the Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund. As part of the agreement, the city agreed to a $674,900 local match. 

The Grand Haven Area Community Foundation also announced this past August that the project had received a $25,000 gift from Fifth Third Bank.

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