LINC unveils Southtown Square townhomes, $10-million plans


LINC Community Revitalization’s Jeremy DeRoo, left, co-executive director, and Darel Ross II, co-executive director, follow the development principle of “place making.” Photo by Johnny Quirin

LINC Community Revitalization’s philosophy of county wide, neighborhood-deep revitalization is resurrecting West Michigan communities.

The Kent County neighborhood revitalization nonprofit held a ribbon cutting ceremony today for the arrival of nine townhomes in its Southtown Square development at 429 Umatilla St. SE in Grand Rapids’ Madison Square neighborhood.

LINC plans for a total of 16 townhomes in the development financed by $3.2 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds. Seven more townhomes, designed by Isaac Norris and Associates to be affordable and energy efficient, are still being built as Phase I of LINC’s larger community plan.

LINC also announced Phase II of the plan, which includes the construction of a $10 million business and residential development in the Southtown neighborhood.

Phase II, made possible through $9 million from the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit funds, will create a four-story building on the corner of Madison and Hall that will house 44 residential spaces and an additional 13,000 square feet of commercial space.

Southtown Square Phase II
A rendering of Phase II of Southtown Square. Courtesy LINC Community Revitalization

Darel Ross II, LINC co-executive director, said the plan is the fruition of three years’ worth of planning and work, attracting an overall total of $18 million in funding for the redevelopment of Southtown’s neighborhood.

The community response has been overwhelmingly supportive, he said, stressing the vital need for neighborhood “place making” to involve as much diversity as possible.

“When you give people the chance to talk about their goals for the neighborhood, it makes them take a higher level of ownership in the neighborhood and a greater sense of pride,” he said. “Place making has been defined by young urbanists, but in our experience, local residents are just as passionate and opinionated. It’s just they’re not connected to those conversations, so we try to open up the dialogue as wide as possible.”

LINC is taking its equation to areas like Grandville, Kentwood and Wyoming, where it was recently granted more than $700,000 in home funds to do housing projects, Ross said.

At LINC’s Kentwood meeting regarding the 52nd Street corridor, Ross said about 400 people showed up, a mix of youth who wanted bike lanes and green space, business owners who wanted business opportunities and seniors who wanted senior housing available.

West Michigan neighborhood programs can be “resource rich and systems poor,” he said, meaning that although many programs exist to fix the problems, they are not always aligned to make maximum impact in a community.

LINC’s philosophy, Ross said, is that a neighborhood revitalization program needs to holistically engage in the four pillars of communities: economic development, real estate development, resident services and neighborhood services.

Engaging in any of those pillars in isolation, regardless of good intentions, may perpetuate negative results, he said, resulting in “beautiful islands in a sea of despair.”

“If you do economic development in isolation, what you find is these robust urban business districts and urban business corridors, and if you go back two or three blocks, the neighborhood itself has not physically or socially changed,” Ross said. “So the real question is, how do you hit on all these cylinders from a revitalization standpoint? A lot of what we do really does focus on the linkages between people, places and opportunity.”

This means place making leaders must understand each neighborhood individually, he said. It’s an attitude summed up in a little saying of his: “If you’ve seen one neighborhood, you’ve seen one neighborhood.”

“Let’s be honest, some things that are good for developers aren’t good for communities, and (vice-versa), so how do you create space for that dialogue so that the overall product is better?” he said. “When you talk urbanism and trends, it should be very neighborhood centric because one size doesn’t fit all.”

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