Grand Strategy gathers momentum in application process


A calm Grand River runs through downtown Grand Rapids. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

The Grand Strategy was on the agenda for both the city of Grand Rapids Committee of the Whole and the Downtown Development Authority board meetings last week.

Organizers of the collaborative resiliency project centered on the Grand River are moving forward in a competitive grant application process seeking about $200 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Plan.

During the Oct. 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, city officials approved a resolution to authorize city staff to enter into a partnership agreement with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to apply for funds from the federal government for the Community Development Block Grant National Disaster Resilience competition.

The resolution also would require city staff to submit a letter of intent to participate, and a “binding cooperation, sub-recipient, or developer agreement, or a contract, as applicable and contingent upon award” included in the application, according to the Oct. 7 agenda action request.

Haris Alibasic, energy and sustainability director for Grand Rapids, said during the meeting the project team is moving forward with the second phase of the HUD grant application, and it is a tremendous opportunity.

“The total Grand Strategy amount we are submitting as a request will be around $200 million, and the total project implementation is around $400 million,” he said. “There are significant local matches and leverages we are putting forward, the philanthropic community is stepping forward, and we are still working on the state side to leverage funds.”

While Congress appropriated nearly $1 billion for resilience-related activities for the two-phase competition after Superstorm Sandy, nearly $200 million already has been allocated to New Jersey and New York.

Grand Rapids, as one of the 40 finalist communities, is competing for approximately $200 million in federal dollars to support the transformation of the river from a liability into an asset.

The competition is sponsored in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, which provided feedback on The Grand Strategy after project representatives shared the plan last week in Washington D.C., according to Alibasic.

“We were told to go big, and I know this is a big request,” he said. “Reviewers from Rockefeller Foundation and others really liked our approach because it is a systemic and holistic approach to address resiliency.”

DDA board members were presented with a recommendation during the Oct. 14 meeting and ultimately approved the authorization for the board chair to sign a letter on behalf of the organization to commit $1.5 million toward eligible projects in downtown, contingent upon the award of federal funds.

Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., indicated the $1.5 million would help to leverage the $200 million request of the federal government and would be allocated toward planned projects in the urban core.

“The idea of our application is really transforming the river from a gray industrialized liability into a green, social, economic and environmental asset that really delivers far-reaching value for our community,” said Guy. “We believe we are putting forward a pretty innovative model for consideration, not only because of the innovation we are putting forward in terms of what we are putting forward for the urban core, but also the scale of the request, as well as the regional collaboration.”

Key partners working to develop The Grand Strategy include Kent County, the city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., communities located along the Grand River, and the MEDC, which will act as the lead agency submitting the final application.

Kent County and Grand Rapids jointly announced two upcoming public hearings scheduled for Oct. 20 to provide participants an opportunity to view the draft proposal and submit comments. The first hearing is planned to take place at DeVos Place Convention Center in the Chase Boardroom at 5:30 p.m.; the second hearing will be held at 6161 Belmont NE in Belmont in the Plainfield Charter Township Hall at 7 p.m.

During the Committee of the Whole meeting, Alibasic indicated the idea behind the two public hearings is to engage community members in the process.

“We really have to have not only a strong proposal, but we have to have community engagement,” he said.

The deadline for the MEDC to submit The Grand Strategy proposal is Oct. 27; the decision on potential funding should occur early 2016.

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