The Rapid public-transit system is paying HDR Inc. $293,895 to refine the 2008 study, updating what an electric streetcar line would cost and how the money could come together. An advisory committee started meeting last month.
“We’re going to build on that (2008 study),” said John Logie, a former Grand Rapids mayor who is chairman of the committee. “We think the timing is right. The economy is coming back.
“What happens when a local government invests in putting rails in the street is entrepreneurs who are watching this know that the government is making a long-term commitment (and it leverages private investment).”
The original streetcar study envisioned a $79 million, 3-mile route mostly along Monroe Avenue between Rapid Central Station and the Sixth Street Bridge. Logie said “we will look at that (route) again with fresh eyes to see if that still makes sense.”
Here’s how Logie described a downtown streetcar line in a WGVU interview last month:
“The cities who are ahead of us, who have done this, have found that you don’t want to look like that Coors Light ad with the guys in the mountains and the trains zooming by. No, it’s going to have some history edge to it because people seem to like that, but it’s pretty simple. It’s a single wire of electricity that’s going to be strung and, yes, some flush-with-the-pavement metal.”That is a secret about the success of these because developers, when they watch a public agency like The Rapid spend the money to put those tracks in the ground and put that wire up, they’re willing to invest and put up new buildings or refurbish old ones that are right next to or even within three or four blocks from either side of where it’s going to go. It’s that permanent commitment that’s being made that attracts new investment.”
Grand Rapids in the early 1900s had as many as 70 miles of streetcar lines, and Logie is more optimistic than ever that now is the time to bring streetcars back to Grand Rapids. The prime marketing demographic: “young people, some of whom don’t own cars and don’t want to,” Logie said.
“I don’t have any experience with it directly, but in other cities it seems to work,” said Sam Cummings, a real estate developer who’s part of the advisory committee. “There’s no question that we have to try to skate to where the puck is going. By the same token, we should also make sure that we don’t throw away the automobile because that’s not going anywhere either.”
Streetcar lines are identified along with the coming bus-rapid transit route as key tenets of The Rapid’s long-range plan.
“People our age are moving back into the city and living an urban lifestyle,” Rapid CEO Peter Varga said in the WGVU interview. “Young people want all these mobility options, want to live downtown and they are actually not getting driver’s licenses. They’re using public transit. they’re walking and bicycling. A street car fits this new demographic change and that’s why this is the right time to start talking about these things.
“Our purpose is to create something new and exciting in the downtown, something that’s going to make it more walkable and livable, and hopefully attract enough private interest in it so we can do a really good public-private partnership on the project.”
A consultant in 2008 suggested a new local sales tax and a tax on nearby parking spaces to help build and operate a downtown streetcar system. Here’s that report. But Varga said the project is dependent on getting financial commitments from private donors: “How fast that moves is how fast we’ll go.”
The committee’s work in the coming months “will specifically examine models of public-private partnerships in streetcar system development, construction and operation,” said Jennifer Kalczuk, spokeswoman for The Rapid. The committee also will “analyze potential routing, amenities and coordination with existing services,” she said.