The city of Rochester Hills plans to begin construction on what Mayor Bryan Barnett has called an “Indiana Jones rope-style bridge,” similar to this one, in 2024.

The city of Rochester Hills plans to begin construction on what Mayor Bryan Barnett has called an “Indiana Jones rope-style bridge,” similar to this one, in 2024.

Photo provided by the city of Rochester Hills

City to spend nearly $3M on rope bridge, unlocking more green space at Innovation Hills

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published January 10, 2024


ROCHESTER HILLS — The Rochester Hills City Council has given the green light for the city to shell out nearly $3 million to construct a rope bridge across the Clinton River at Innovation Hills Park.

Ken Elwert, the city’s director of parks and natural resources, said the bridge will open up approximately 1 mile of rustic trails within over 48 acres of green space on the north side of the Clinton River and Innovation Hills.

The 48.38-acre green space parcel — formerly known as “Dr. White’s property” — is the single largest piece of green space acquired in the city’s history, according to city officials. It was purchased by the city for green space preservation in December 2014.

“Before Innovation Hills Park was even built there was a strategic framework plan, and one of the phases was to build a bridge over the Clinton River. At that time, it was thought that it should be more concrete in structure. Even in 2016-2017, it was going to be $2 million-$3 million for that type of bridge, and we knew that it was going to end up being more, so we actually looked at different options and came up with this rope bridge idea. The rope bridge has, of course, gotten more expensive over time, but it’s primarily expensive because we’re not allowing the construction companies to go through the green space portion, which is north of the river there,” Elwert said.

The skyrocketing cost of steel, access issues for the bridge’s construction, and a limited number of companies willing to take on the project all contributed to the high cost of the project, Elwert explained.

“There weren’t very many companies interested in building something like this, with difficult access issues, when they can go build a bridge on the highway for $10 million,” he said. “This is a very unique project. There aren’t that many rope bridges in the state.”

On Nov. 13, the City Council voted 5-1 to authorize the construction and installation of the bridge for $2,844,050, with a 5% project contingency, for a total not-to-exceed project amount of $2,986,252.50 to Z Contractors of Shelby Township. The city previously received a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to support development of the project.

Council also voted 5-1 to authorize $249,000 in construction engineering services for the bridge to Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc., of Bloomfield Hills.

Councilwoman Theresa Mungioli voted against both motions.

“The cost differential is just too high for me at this point, when there are many other priorities in our parks that I’d like to see before we put in another bridge,” she said during the meeting. “Yes, it may look beautiful, but I want to make sure that Spencer and Bloomer and Nowicki also look beautiful before I add another shining object to Innovation Hills.”

Councilwoman Susan Bowyer said she watched the cost for the bridge keep escalating over the years and wants it built as soon as possible to avoid any additional cost to the city.

“I realize that it’s expensive. I realize that it’s innovative. I realize its a rope bridge to limit the impact to the green spaces than any other sort of bridge to go over there, and, yes its a large amount of acreage that we want residents to have access to, so, with that, I am going to support it, even though I cringe at the cost. Knowing that the sooner you build it, the cheaper it will be, the longer you wait to build it, it’s going to cost us more money,” Bowyer said during the meeting.

Although Councilman David Blair admitted he, too, was “shocked” by the cost, he ultimately voted in favor of constructing the bridge.

“When I first heard of this bridge project, the numbers just jumped out of the page, and I thought, ‘We can’t spend that much money on a bridge.’ But as I thought about the project and I looked at the magic of Innovation Hills, and I saw the renderings, it became pretty clear that this was going to be a new icon for the city,” he said. “I could easily see this bridge being an image broadcast nationwide about the amazing things that are happening in the city. It’s going to be magnificent.”

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said his team was also surprised by the cost, but he said they worked “incredibly hard and diligently” to get the cost to where it is today.

“Some of the small buildings that we built have been wildly expensive based on the market and the influx of government cash into the system and the difficulty in even getting crews,” he said. “But we feel very confident we can build it with this.”

Barnett said the project aligns with the community and city’s priorities.

“The No. 1 green space identified in our city from day one was the Dr. White property. That’s this property. The No. 1 item identified in the most recent survey that asked our residents what they wanted to see in our parks is that they want to see more access to trails, more trails,” Barnett said. “It’s probably our most visited park, and the No. 1 thing that our residents want to see, and the No. 1 property that we purchased to preserve green space, so I think, while it is pricey, I think the long term ROI (return on investment) on this is going to be well worth it.”

Innovation Hills, the city’s first new park in 25 years, opened to the public in October 2019 with various lakes, glow-in-the-dark sidewalks, boardwalks and trails. In September of 2021, the city opened the park’s 3-acre, nature-themed universal play area for youth of all abilities.

The city plans to have the new 100-foot-wide, net-frame bridge built in 2024. It will be located off the park’s main asphalt paths past the large pond, down the hill and across from the turtle pond. Construction will be limited to access from the south side of the Clinton River, minimizing disturbance to green space on the north side of the river.

“The construction of this project is happening almost exclusively from the south side of the river to essentially save the green space, if you will, from any construction damage: driving through and bringing materials, bringing cranes through — anything like that. We’ve worked very hard to limit that,” Elwert said.

Innovation Hills Park is located at 2800 W. Hamlin Road in Rochester Hills.