Corridor study gets federal funding


    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the city of Grand Rapids a $459,224 Sustainable Community grant last week for the Michigan Street Corridor Plan, a study that is designed to ease transportation-congestion problems for vehicles, pedestrians and residents along and around the Medical Mile, maintain affordable housing, and outline new areas for further economic development on the heels of the successful health care facilities that have transformed the corridor.

    The amount of the HUD grant, one of only four the department awarded Michigan, was $80,000 larger than City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz originally planned to apply for. In September 2010, Schulz told city commissioners she would seek a grant of $379,000.

    The HUD award, officially known as a Community Challenge Grant from its Sustainable Communities program, was given because the city has put together a coalition of government officials, community stakeholders, landowners, residents and business owners to “develop a comprehensive integrated model that will advance housing, economic and community development, transportation and environmental outcomes to ensure a sustainable future for Grand Rapids and the West Michigan region.”

    The award notice went on to say, “The strategy will work to balance quality housing choices to serve populations that can benefit from being in close proximity to jobs, employment centers and educational institutions in order to ensure that neighborhood services are available to residents and workers …”

    Prior to receiving the grant, Schulz raised $200,000 locally for the corridor study, with the biggest gift coming from the Grand Valley Metro Council, which gave the work an $80,000 federal grant it was awarded. The Downtown Development Authority, Grand Rapids Community College, Spectrum Health and the city’s Parking Services department each gave $25,000. The city’s Planning Department gave $15,000, and Michigan State University contributed $5,000. Those gifts came in 2010.

    Then city commissioners awarded the study $20,000 last August for the pre-planning stage. It was a necessary allocation in order to collect the grant from the Metro Council.

    Grand Valley State University, the Michigan Street Corridor Association, the Michigan State University College of Social Science and MSU’s Urban Regional Planning graduate program have worked with the city’s Planning Department on the effort.

    The need for the study arose more than a year ago when Michigan Street and the surrounding Belknap and Heritage Hill residential neighborhoods became congested.

    “We have some intersections that are close to failure,” Schulz told city commissioners in September 2010. “We can’t build our way out of it.”

    The area being studied is four miles long. It runs east from the Grand River to East Beltline Avenue and south from Leonard to Fulton Street. The sector contains seven neighborhoods with 20,000 residents, many local businesses and the city’s major health institutions. About 50,000 people work and attend school within 50 acres of the study area. More than 30,000 vehicles travel the corridor every weekday.

    A steering committee established by the city selected WilburSmith Associates Inc., LSL Planning Inc., Progressive AE, Project Innovations Inc. and SmartMobility as the study’s team of consultants following an RFP that was issued last April. Schulz has encouraged the public to input their ideas into the project.

    “If we don’t figure this out, transportation will fail and there won’t be another $1 billion invested there,” she said in reference to the investment that has been made into the Medical Mile. “We need to do some improvements, but what improvements do we want to make?”

    Somewhat related to the study is the fact that GVSU was given the green light earlier this month by the school’s trustees to buy 1.6 acres in the corridor just north of Michigan Street for $3.25 million. The 15 parcels are situated between Hastings and Trowbridge streets and Lafayette and Prospect avenues and are adjacent to the university’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. GVSU plans to expand its health care programs on the property with a building planned for the parcel at the intersection of Hastings and Lafayette.

    GVSU is the region’s No. 1 provider of health care workers, with 5,000 students currently enrolled in health care programs. The university reported that its Center for Health Sciences, which opened in 2003 at 301 Michigan St. NE, is filled to capacity and needs additional labs and classrooms to fully accommodate all the student applications that the university projects it will receive in the immediate future.

    “There’s no question we need to find room for more students who want to study at Grand Valley in one of the health care fields. We have obligations as a university to educate the health care workers of our future, and we also understand we have an obligation as an anchor on Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile,” said GVSU President Thomas Haas.

    “That means being responsible to the city and to those who will personally be affected by our expansion plans,” he added.

    In addition to Grand Rapids, HUD awarded Washtenaw County a $3 million Community Challenge grant. The federal agency also gave a Regional Planning grant to the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission in Lansing worth $3 million, and one worth $660,000 to the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments based in Traverse City. In all, HUD awarded $96 million in grants last week.

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