Essay Project 2021: The Boardwalk - Portland’s Not So Hidden Gem
By Jacob Kindel
Across the tranquil current of the Grand River from William Toan Park, there is a blemish that some may consider an eyesore. The once-neglected riverside facades of our hometown have transformed into a multipurpose, functional boardwalk. Prior to 2007, the decades of wear and tear to the rear of these riverside buildings came to be quite an atrocity to those entering downtown from eastbound Grand River Avenue, as well as eastbound Bridge Street. With funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), property owners, and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the concept design for the Portland boardwalk was able to begin in 2004.
Spanning nearly three years from design to construction, “[the boardwalk] really dressed up that area of the city.”, said Jon Moxey, engineer at Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering, Inc. Holding this project “near and dear to [his] heart”, Moxey was involved in the design of the boardwalk and has taken over the lead role at Fleis & VandenBrink for the entire city of Portland.
Despite its beauty, the boardwalk came with some challenges of its own. “... the regulatory requirements and permitting was probably the biggest challenge on the project. Working alongside the river, in the floodplain, things like that. That was a big part of it”, Moxey said. Not only did the team face environmental factors, but “The project also involved working with a lot of different property owners, so that comes with unique challenges, too”, said Moxey. The original width for the boardwalk was twelve feet in length; however, concerns arose from the Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE). Worries emerged with Fleis & VandenBrink impact on the watershed on the natural, therefore, the boardwalk was slightly narrowed to ten feet in length.
Moxey claims, “we hold [the boardwalk] up as one of our crowning projects”. He says that before the boardwalk, “the rear of [the riverside] buildings were pretty run down. It was kind of an eyesore.” Now, the side entrances to riverside businesses made possible by the boardwalk, “increase[s] business opportunities, resulting in jobs added to downtown!”, according to a YouTube video published by Kathy Parsons.
Quoted in A Tale of Two Rivers, an article written in the Michigan Municipal League magazine, written by Kendall Beck, “‘I love it. To me, it is by far the crowning jewel of the city of Portland.’ said Michelle VanSlambrouck, [former] owner of the Cheeky Monkeys Coffee House.” Also quoted from A Tale of Two Rivers, “‘Portland is benefiting from this newly discovered treasure with new interest and development in the downtown area.’ said [former] Portland City Manager, Tom Dempsey”. This new addition to our beloved town is clearly adored and appreciated by many.
Not only is the boardwalk used for an alternative entrance to certain local businesses, it serves other purposes as well. A plethora of Portland residents and visitors frequently take leisurely strolls and jogs down the boardwalk. The city of Portland is well known for its annual “Beerfest on the Bridge”, which occurs on the second Saturday of August. Festival promoter, Eric Proctor states that “The boardwalk, bridge, and park surrounding the river are what separates this festival from other beer festivals out there. At the end of the day, a beer festival is a beer festival. However, Beerfest on the Bridge has one of the most vibrant atmospheres”, quoted from Downtown Portland’s, Beerfest on the Bridge article. The Veterans Memorial Bridge along with the boardwalk are the true reasons that set this beer festival apart from every other festival out there.
A poem written by Erin Hanson states, “I once heard someone say, If you don’t change you do not grow.” The Portland boardwalk has certainly changed and grown the town. The dazzling lights strung from the boardwalk make it a sight that viewers will not soon forget. The effect that the boardwalk has on the community is truly what makes it Portland’s not so hidden gem.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.