WYOMING — City officials have secured $6 million from Kent County’s share of federal stimulus funds to help advance longtime plans for a downtown just south of 28th Street.
The planned project would add 4.6 miles of walkable trails, two pedestrian bridges over 28th Street, and civic space.
However, the City Center Bridge and Trail Activation project is linked to the city’s broader economic development goals, which date back roughly two decades and aim to create a more walkable environment around 28th Street, the city’s primary commercial corridor. These goals and others also were codified last year in the city’s updated master plan.
Nicole Hofert, the city’s director of community and economic development, said initial planning for a “downtown” Wyoming started in the early 2000s. After that, the city’s “Turn on 28th” plan began to focus on the auto-oriented corridor.
“That plan really was the first plan that kind of outlined a different future for 28th Street that wasn’t this auto-centric corridor, but returning to its roots as more of a destination, a true city center node,” Hofert said.
A Wyoming City Center would be located south of 28th Street around Michael Avenue, or about midway between Burlingame and Clyde Park avenues.
To date, the city has invested roughly $2 million in street improvements to help drive development south of 28th. A large-scale housing project is also a key component of the plan.
Magnus Capital Partners built HoM Flats at 28 West at the former Studio 28 property, repurposing the site with nearly 400 apartments.
“That was really a catalytic project, and it’s seen as being the official launch of the City Center project,” Hofert said. “Even though we had these two decades of trying to attract the investment, it was really once they (Magnus) made that commitment and invested in the area that we started seeing this upward trajectory.”
Vishal Arora, founder and CEO of the New York City-based real estate investment firm, was born and raised in Zeeland and is closely familiar with the area. The company has invested $62.9 million into the former Studio 28 property.
“As a developer raised in West Michigan, this was an attractive opportunity and an ideal location to build multifamily workforce housing,” Arora said. “It checked all the boxes: convenient access to bus routes, grocery stores, retail and jobs. City of Wyoming leadership has been great to work with, and we have appreciated our partnership.”
Kent County commissioners on Dec. 1 approved $6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the Wyoming project. While they didn’t receive the full $10 million requested, Wyoming officials still aim to advance the City Center proposal.
The city, which has a population of roughly 76,000 and is the largest Grand Rapids suburb, has already budgeted $10 million to acquire land and draft designs for construction. A portion of those funds are being held as potential matching funds for grants.
The city requested an additional $10 million in ARPA funds to launch phase one of construction in the spring. This would include constructing 3.1 miles of non-motorized trails and a pedestrian bridge over 28th Street. The proposed trails and bridge would close gaps in the current trail network and ultimately reduce resident automobile dependence. The trails would also connect residents to city assets such as Pinery Park, City Hall, and a Kent District Library, as well as the new City Center.
Wyoming Deputy City Manager John McCarter said the project would have been significantly stalled without ARPA funding, but it would still move forward.
“The private investment is there whether or not we move ahead in the spring with the public investment,” McCarter said. “But we need the funding to complete the bridge in the time that we want to.”
After today’s vote at the county, city officials plan to break ground on phase one next year. Phase two could begin in 2024 with the construction of 1.5 additional miles of trails and a second pedestrian bridge over 28th Street. Phase three of the City Center plan calls for adding 800 to 2,000 units of housing and up to 100,000 square feet of commercial space.
“We’re talking about Class A commercial space along 28th street, one of the most heavily trafficked streets in West Michigan,” McCarter said. “And we’re talking about both affordable housing and market-rate housing in a time where there is a housing crisis, not just in Wyoming, but across the state and across the country. This checks a lot of those boxes that we’ve heard from residents on, that we’ve seen in the news, and that’s well documented too. It accomplishes a lot.”
McCarter also says it’s important to acknowledge the area’s vibrant history, which once included a Rogers Department Store and Studio 28. He hopes that the ARPA funding will provide a spark for the city’s longtime revitalization plan.
“Time has kind of passed this part of 28th Street by,” McCarter said. “This project brings life back into what was a destination in West Michigan and creates that destination while at the same time, I think, achieving some really important objectives.”