Published in Economic Development
Arts nonprofit The Diatribe Inc.’s plan for a new cultural center in Grand Rapids was among 21 proposals recommended by Kent County staff to receive a share of federal stimulus funding. Arts nonprofit The Diatribe Inc.’s plan for a new cultural center in Grand Rapids was among 21 proposals recommended by Kent County staff to receive a share of federal stimulus funding. COURTESY OF PURE ARCHITECTS

Housing loan fund, public amenities among 21 projects recommended for share of Kent County stimulus funding

BY Tuesday, November 15, 2022 05:36pm

Kent County staff have narrowed down more than 300 requests for federal stimulus funding to 21 projects that involve housing, public amenities, support for underrepresented communities, and social programs.

County officials have deliberated for months over how to spend $127 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Of that, about $11 million has been allocated to county projects, and another $7.3 million could be set aside in a contingency fund.

That leaves roughly $109.6 million up for grabs in federal stimulus funding. County officials this fall solicited proposals from the community that drew more than 300 requests totaling about $3 billion.

A weeks-long process to narrow those proposals, which included a ranking process by the county board of commissioners last month, culminated in a list of 21 community-submitted projects that county staff presented to the board of commissioners on Monday night. (Staff submitted six additional county projects for ARPA funding, while another two projects involving broadband and a children’s hospital will be considered in the future.)

No votes were cast during Monday’s meeting, and the board of commissioners will analyze the staff’s recommendations before voting to fund projects on Dec. 6.

Some community members and commissioners questioned whether some of the projects in the county’s recommendation were truly “transformational,” and why staff recommended some projects that received a relatively low priority ranking during an Oct. 14 meeting

“The preference ratings played a major role,” Kent County Administrator Al Vanderberg told commissioners. 

County staff assembled the recommended funding list based on the commissioners’ rankings; community forums; surveys; and information in the proposals themselves that Guidehouse — a national consulting firm the county has retained for the ARPA process — and county staff conducted, Vanderberg said.

Project proposals

Here’s a list of the 21 community-submitted projects, and funding levels, that Kent County staff recommended for ARPA funding:

  • Kent County Homes Fund ($15 million to $20 million): The revolving loan fund would offer low- or no-interest loans to housing projects that would result in reducing the high cost-burden of housing for people across the economic spectrum.
  • Equitable housing initiative ($500,000): Nonprofit housing advocacy group Housing Next would form a data-driven approach to identify barriers in development and support local municipalities that are prepared or already seeking changes in their zoning ordinance to better facilitate housing projects. 
  • Emory Arts and Culture Hub ($2 million): The Diatribe Inc. plans to construct a cultural center in Grand Rapids’ Burton Heights neighborhood that would include 3,000 square feet of space for the nonprofit’s administrative offices and programming space. The space would also contain live/work apartments for artists, tourists and creative travelers.
  • Boston Square Hub ($4 million to $6 million): Amplify GR is leading a $100 million redevelopment called Boston Square Together, located in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square neighborhood. The project contains a community hub, which involves a two-story, 45,000-square-foot multipurpose community facility that would contain a health clinic, early childhood center, offices for Amplify GR, co-working space, community bank and event space.
  • Junior Achievement Free Enterprise Center ($1 million): Junior Achievement of Michigan Great Lakes is establishing a new facility called the JA Free Enterprise Center in Grand Rapids, which would house three learning labs: JA BizTown, JA Finance Park, and JA Enterprise Incubator.
  • Nourish Tomorrow Advancement campaign ($2.5 million): Feeding America West Michigan is in the process of relocating to a new facility in Kentwood to expand its programs and services.
  • Spay neuter initiative ($1 million): The Community Spay Neuter Initiative Partnership (CSNIP) addresses the chronic overpopulation of dogs and cats in Kent County, and plans to expand surgical capacity and the range of veterinary services available to local pet owners who can’t afford care when their pet is in need.
  • Meijer Sports Complex expansion ($500,000 to $1 million): The West Michigan Sports Commission plans an $11 million expansion to the Meijer Sports Complex to upgrade visitor amenities, expand sports for girls, and accommodate more senior athletes at the facility.
  • Wyoming city center bridge and trail activation ($6 million): The city of Wyoming plans to construct two new pedestrian bridges, 4.6 miles of new trails and civic space in a multi-phased, public-private development. The project also proposes revitalizing an aging and largely vacant commercial corridor and adding workforce and affordable housing along 28th Street, and linking non-motorized trails to regional destinations.
  • The Grand Agricultural Center of West Michigan ‘Raising Barns, Building Youth’ campaign ($5 million): The $37 million project led by the Kent County Youth Agricultural Association would repurpose the former Deer Run Golf Course in Lowell into a multi-purpose, public space that contains a youth and family entertainment and educational venue. A campground with amenities and regional trailway connections would also be included.
  • John Ball Zoo expansion ($6 million to $10 million): John Ball Zoo submitted two separate ARPA project proposals, including an expansion that would add a giraffe habitat along with three other African species, infrastructure and pathways to support the exhibits, as well as restrooms and a small cafe. 
  • Grand Rapids Public Museum ($1 million): The museum plans to expand its west entry lobby and gathering space to make it fully accessible for groups. 
  • Kent County Domestic Violence Action Network ($4 million): The funding would help increase critical services for survivors of domestic violence by creating a domestic violence court and coordinated response programming to help survivors of domestic violence.
  • Kent County Road Commission transforming road network ($3 million to $6 million): Funds would allow for more road improvement projects across the county.
  • United Methodist Community House UMICH 900 ($500,000 to $1 million): United Methodist Community House (UMCH) is developing a $32 million project on South Division Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids that would improve services for older adults and young children. The intergenerational development would include 46 affordable senior housing units, and various support services for senior citizens and childcare classrooms for young children. 
  • Workforce development for economic mobility ($1 million): The Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation (GRCCT) plans to create 500 new job placements throughout Kent County with employment skills training in various fields. GRCCT also plans to support businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) with training resources and programs. 
  • West Michigan Construction Institute phase II expansion ($1 million): The West Michigan Construction Institute plans a 4,765-square-foot expansion to its educational facility in Grand Rapids, which would include two new construction education labs and an office for staff.
  • West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce headquarters ($600,000 to $1.2 million): The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber plans to renovate a 17,000-square-foot building on Grand Rapids’ south side for the organization’s new headquarters where Latinx entrepreneurs can find support.
  • Wyoming Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce ($100,000): The Chamber plans to offer free business development and training resources over the next four years to help local business owners.
  • Community, economic and workforce development in Kent County’s Hispanic community ($1.5 million to $2 million): The Hispanic Center of West Michigan plans to form a community development financial institution (CDFI) for the Latinx community.
  • AYA Youth Collective ($2 million): Funds would provide health care access for youth ages 14-24 who are experiencing homelessness.
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