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Published in Economic Development
Representatives of a major development (above) proposed in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square neighborhood made the case for a share of Kent County’s federal ARPA funding. Representatives of a major development (above) proposed in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square neighborhood made the case for a share of Kent County’s federal ARPA funding. COURTESY PHOTO

Kent Co. officials rank more than 300 proposals seeking $127M in federal ARPA funds

BY Monday, October 17, 2022 05:24pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County residents and representatives from local organizations made their case Friday for a piece of the $127 million that the county is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act.

During a four-hour public work session, the Kent County Board of Commissioners started sifting through the more than 300 project proposals and 13 internal county projects they will consider funding with ARPA dollars. Many projects submitted for ARPA funding have been gathering steam over several years, such as the renovation of the Four Star Theatre in Grand Rapids. 

The $4 million renovation of the historic theater on Division Avenue was announced in the summer of 2019, and project leaders are seeking $1.6 million from the county’s ARPA allocation.

“Creating a world class cultural arts venue in one of the most underserved and densely populated neighborhoods in our community will create an immense and transformational impact for a higher quality of life in an area of our community that has only received a small fraction of investment,” Marcus Ringnalda, who initially purchased the theater before a nonprofit acquired it for the renovation project, said during the meeting. “With few exceptions, projects like this do not happen without at least one-third of funds coming from public sources. With this funding, this project goes full speed ahead.”

Victor Williams, who heads the Boston Square Neighborhood Association, spoke as a representative of the Boston Square Community Hub, which is seeking $5 million from Kent County’s ARPA pot. The community hub would be a multi-purpose facility that is part of Amplify GR’s larger $100 million Boston Square redevelopment on the south side of Grand Rapids.

“This is resident-driven, we were at the table for the last four years making sure equity was part of the process and we negotiated with Amplify GR to get a community-owned grocery store and a community-owned financial institution to make sure residents can stay in the community and the area is not gentrified,” Williams said during the meeting. “We want to make sure Boston Square residents have the opportunity to stay in Boston Square.”

About $11 million of the county’s total ARPA funding has either already been spent or is in the process of being used on county projects. The plan for the remaining funds is to bring some of the 319 community proposals and 13 internal county projects to fruition. The county accepted proposals from members of the public and local organizations between May 20 and July 15. 

During the Friday work session, 18 county commissioners (Commissioner David Bulkowski was absent) were each given a remote control clicker and asked to give each project proposal a 1-5 ranking, from “low priority” to “high priority.” 

No votes were taken during the Friday work session, but county staffers are in the process of creating a series of ARPA funding packages using specific proposals that the board of commissioners will consider and vote on before the end of 2022. Most of the projects received low to moderate priority ratings from commissioners, which could be a reflection of how selective commissioners will have to be with the funds. The project proposals far exceed the amount of available funding.

However, the county is open to working with people to help identify other funding sources for projects not selected for ARPA funding, Board Chairperson Stan Stek said during the meeting. 

“Please don’t lose your visions,” Stek said. “These are ideas that have legs.”

Kent County surveyed residents online and hosted town hall meetings over the summer to gather information on community needs and how people want the ARPA funds spent. The need for more affordable housing was a common theme throughout, as MiBiz previously reported.

The Kent County Equitable Housing Initiative proposed by ICCF Community Homes was one of 11 affordable housing projects submitted for ARPA funding from the community. Plans call for building 211 units of affordable housing earmarked for low and moderate income earning households; renovating and preserving 322 affordable rental units; and providing gap funding to support 64 affordable assisted living rental units in two different locations.

“I’m here to ask that you fund (the Kent County Equitable Housing Initiative), a truly transformational project that will help hundreds of working households in our community throughout Kent County,” Ryan VerWys, president and CEO of ICCF Community Homes, said during the meeting.  

The ICCF project and nearly all of the other housing proposals received low ratings from commissioners, except for an option that proposes an affordable housing revolving loan fund. The housing revolving loan fund was a late addition to the proposals because previously ARPA funds were prohibited from being used to create a revolving loan fund, said Kent County Administrator Al Vanderberg. 

“The potential would exist to create something that all of the (affordable housing) projects here could apply to and it would also create the possibility of truly having a county-wide impact,” Vanderberg said.

Read 1876 times Last modified on Tuesday, 18 October 2022 10:41
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