Development Community Grateful For State Assistance

October 28, 2002
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Urban sprawl issues have been a constant focus in the metro region, especially as the South Beltline presents itself as an enormous snake of concrete stretching from one end of the county to the other, motivating developers to consider new projects. Two new state programs reported in this issue, however, offer inoculation even as sprawl is certain.

First, Michigan Department of Consumer & Industry Services this week initiates new code rules governing renovation efforts. A more than two-year effort by developers who challenged the department to review and define some of the existing codes is finally bearing some fruit. One CIS staffer noted, “The problem was the performance code wasn’t widely used and wasn’t understood either by the developers or many building officials.”

CIS Director Noelle Clark acknowledged, “Without these new rules, our communities would undoubtedly continue to see property owners and developers investing in new construction rather than using existing buildings. This would mean more aging buildings would be left abandoned, which would only exacerbate the development of valuable farm land, increase urban blight and decay, and reduce the tax base that is necessary to make Michigan cities economically viable.”

Grand Rapids neighborhoods certainly will benefit as renovation becomes more cost effective. Grand Rapids Business Journal reported last week on a new project currently under consideration: the West Grand Neighborhood Organization project to beautify the northerly entrance to the city just off the west bank of the Grand River, in proximity to Bob Israels’ renovation of the old John Widdicomb Furniture buildings and plans by Pioneer Construction to renovate empty buildings at American Seating headquarters.

Second, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. has unveiled another innovative program that creates a partnership between it, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Michigan Municipal League. The collaborative program frees “hundreds of thousands” of dollars of matching grants for downtown developments across the state.

The program recognizes a growing interest by professionals to live in urban areas, the necessity of keeping community downtown areas thriving, as well as addressing affordable housing issues in core cities.

The recent struggles of the Muskegon downtown area, the building plans revitalizing the near downtown area of Grand Haven, and Grand Rapids’ pending downtown impact from the new convention center all have enhanced opportunity as vital economic engines in the partnership. An MEDC vice president specifically noted physical as well as technological infrastructure improvements as key components.

MEDC’s Jeff Kaczmarek stressed, “You see around the country how dynamic communities can attract and keep people. That challenge is the same for small communities.”

Both reports underscore the enormous benefit when government objectives are to serve rather than obstruct.           

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