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Published in Economic Development
A rendering of Pinnacle Construction Group Inc.’s plan to redevelop 974 Front Ave. NW along the Grand River in Grand Rapids. (COURTESY OF PINNACLE CONSTRUCTION GROUP) A rendering of Pinnacle Construction Group Inc.’s plan to redevelop 974 Front Ave. NW along the Grand River in Grand Rapids. (COURTESY OF PINNACLE CONSTRUCTION GROUP)

FUNDING FIREHOSE: State Revitalization and Placemaking grants aim to bridge funding gap for many West Michigan housing projects

BY KATE CARLSON and JOE BOOMGAARD Thursday, September 08, 2022 03:29pm

Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Berrien County will receive large chunks of funding to regrant to various housing projects that the state approved Wednesday through the Revitalization and Placemaking Program. 

The $84 million in Revitalization and Placemaking (RAP) Program grants selected by the Michigan Strategic Fund board is fueled by $100 million of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funding. The RAP Program aims to support projects that promote population and tax revenue growth to counteract the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as spur the redevelopment of vacant and underutilized office, commercial and community spaces. 

Individual public space projects could apply for up to $1 million, while individual real estate projects could apply for up to $5 million. Municipalities, local economic development organizations, and similar nonprofits could request up to $20 million to implement programs in their service areas.  Applications for the funds were due in June.

The subgrant RAP awards — funds that local governments or local economic development organizations requested for projects in their communities — made up nearly $65 million of the total RAP grants approved Wednesday. 

Subgrant recipients in West Michigan include: the City of Grand Rapids ($9.4 million), the City of Muskegon ($6 million), Berrien County ($2.6 million), The Right Place Inc. ($3.6 million) and Southwest Michigan First ($7.9 million).

“We’re thrilled with Governor Whitmer’s announcement of $7.9M to support revitalization and placemaking projects throughout Southwest Michigan,” Southwest Michigan First CEO Jonas Peterson said in an emailed statement to MiBiz. “Our regional application was built with input from many public and private partners. Together, we’re excited to have this opportunity to fund many of those worthy projects.”

A spokesman for Southwest Michigan First told MiBiz the organization was still determining how it would allocate its funding among the list of projects it submitted as part of its grant. 

Meanwhile, Berrien County’s funds are earmarked for renovating downtown districts and housing in Niles and Benton Harbor. 

“The way the MEDC has crafted this program ensures that communities all over the state will benefit, and we will invest in long-term infrastructure and housing improvements that will provide generational benefit to Michiganders,” Cornerstone Alliance President and CEO Rob Cleveland said in a statement. “I hope that the Michigan Legislature sees the overwhelming demand for this program, along with the ways RAP will directly benefit Michiganders, and take it upon themselves to provide an additional allocation to fund more great projects around the state.”

Here is a breakdown of some of the specific projects included in proposals from around West Michigan. 

Grand Rapids projects

The city of Grand Rapids received nearly $9.4 million of its requested $13.6 million to fund 10 projects located across each of the city’s three wards, said Jeremiah Gracia, the city’s economic development director. The city’s request included funding to support 376 units of mostly affordable housing, as well as two corporate relocation or expansion projects within the city. 

“With less funds (awarded than requested), we need to do a reevaluation of each of the projects and figure out how we can deploy that $9.4 million as far as we can,” Gracia said. “Our next steps will be talking to the MEDC about the evaluation criteria and talking with each applicant about where each project is today and understanding the funding levels that we have.”

Most of the city’s RAP funds will go toward housing projects that need gap financing, Gracia said. Some of the projects had yet to secure Low Income Housing Tax Credits and some that did secure LIHTC were still running into difficulties financing their projects because of rising construction costs, he said.

The 10 projects Grand Rapids included in its application include: 

  • Dominican Sisters’ Marywood campus: The main campus is slated to be converted into 108 condominium units with varying levels of affordability. The developers of the project are Third Coast Development LLC and PK Development Group. Adults 55 and older would be permitted to live in the units.
  • 2017 Eastern SE: Plans call for the renovation of an existing two-story masonry building that contains a storefront for the U.S. Postal Service into 16 apartments targeting renters earning between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area median income.
  • Boston Square Together: The first phase of this larger development project will involve the construction of a building with 45 mixed-income rentals ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent of the area median income. Commercial space in the building will include a food hall with a focus on local restaurant startups. 
  • Lexington Apartments: Common Wealth Development is planning to renovate the historic Lexington School building and add an addition to the building at 45 Lexington Ave. NW. The completed facility would have three stories, an elevator and a total of 39 affordable rental units for households making at or below 80 percent of the area median income.
  • 900 Cesar E. Chavez Ave. SW: Developers plan a $4.1 million renovation to house three retail tenants, one of which is tentatively slated to be Supermercado Mexico grocery store. The second floor is planned to be office space, which will include the corporate offices for Corporativo Olvera as one of the tenants. Corporativo Olvera has the same ownership as Supermercado Mexico, which is developing the project under 900 Cesar E. Chavez Property LLC.
  • Eastpointe Commons: Plans call for an affordable apartment community for low- to moderate-income households, with 56 units that will serve households making 30 percent to 60 percent of the area median income. 
  • Array of Engineers: A headquarters will be created for Array of Engineers that will include a community STEM area, offices, electronics workshops for youth and internship programs with Michigan colleges. The company specializes in automated testing, embedded software and custom hardware design. The company will manufacture custom data acquisition systems software in the space as well.
  • MoTown Square: The proposed project features a new four-story, 54-unit affordable assisted living senior apartment building. The units would include independent living apartments, a shared lobby, fitness room, kitchen, dining room and laundry room. 
  • Pinnacle Ventures: The proposed project calls for renovating the three-building complex at 974 Front Ave. NW to create a 12-unit, affordable apartment building with office space. The $13 million project, proposed by Pinnacle Construction Group Inc., is located along the Grand River next to the company’s headquarters, and would allow for 60 to 80 percent affordability for renters. 
  • United Methodist Community House: United Methodist Community House plans to expand its current campus at 904 Sheldon Ave. SE to add a single building with segmented areas. The application submitted for RAP funding only focused on the housing component, which includes 46 units of affordable senior housing on the second, third and fourth floors. A fresh market and senior activity center will serve food from Meals on Wheels to seniors, and plans also call for a child development center with six classrooms. 

Muskegon projects

Meanwhile, the city of Muskegon applied for $11 million in RAP grants that it intended to use for three projects, said LeighAnn Mikesell, interim city manager for Muskegon. Since the city ended up with a $6 million award, officials scaled back a placemaking project the city proposed at the downtown ice arena, but construction on it remains underway using different funds, Mikesell said.

Muskegon plans to use its $6 million in RAP funds to support the development of two downtown housing projects, which include adding more units to the existing Lake View Lofts Muskegon apartment complex, and building an apartment community at 880 First St. that will also include shared workspaces, fitness facilities, an event space and rooftop terrace.

The focus of the RAP grant application was downtown housing because of the housing shortage in Muskegon, Mikesell said, adding that the proposals also aimed to help downtown businesses as well as take advantage of the downtown’s walkability. 

“We are definitely in a situation where we don’t have enough housing for the people who want to be here,” Mikesell told MiBiz. “We’re finding as soon as we have open units, they are sold or rented immediately. We know that in order for any business downtown to thrive, we have to have a concentration of people here. The businesses just aren’t going to make it if there aren’t people living in close proximity.”

The Right Place projects

As MiBiz reported Wednesday, The Right Place secured $3.6 million in RAP grants that will support  nine different projects valued at $3.4 million across Kent, Barry, Mason and Oceana counties. 

The Right Place received 28 applications for more than $30 million in funding requests. The nine funded projects were: 

  • Grand Rapids Public Museum North Lawn Park, which will leverage an $800,000 grant to redevelop an underused area for public outdoor space;
  • Heartside Linear Plaza, which received $800,000 for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s plan to convert an underutilized alley into a pedestrian linear plaza to connect downtown to the Studio Park Piazza;
  • Cedar Springs Downtown Pocket Park, which received $212,500 to convert a vacant lot on Main Street into activated outdoor space; 
  • Sparta Town Square: Phase 2, which will use $363,375 to add various public improvements  and work on pedestrian access and safety; 
  • Eastown Public Art & Safety Project, which will receive $8,500 for Uptown GR to install lighting and public art in an alleyway in the Eastown;
  • Getty Park Renovation in Shelby, which will use $552,500 to add a universal playground and various outdoor amenities;
  • 100 South, which will leverage $500,863 to permanently improve a vacant alleyway in Ludington for outdoor seating and dining;
  • Scottville Optimist Park & Sculpture Project, which includes $179,704 to renovate one of the only public outdoor gathering spaces in the city and a formerly used bandshell; and 
  • Middleville Amphitheater Activation & Art Walk, which will use $21,250 to enhance an existing downtown gathering space with seating and public art

“We must continue to invest in bold place-making initiatives like these, that provide an incredible quality of life for Michiganders, while also serving as a magnet to retain and attract new talented people to the region,” Tim Mroz, senior vice president of community development at The Right Place, said in a statement. 

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Read 2278 times Last modified on Sunday, 11 September 2022 09:13
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