Grants Improve Neighborhoods

August 25, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Four areas of the city will go through a beautification process thanks in part to $105,000 in Community and Economic Development Fund grants the Grand Rapids Community Foundation has awarded.

The four grants are approved by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Board of Trustees, with funds coming from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Community and Economic Development Fund.

The first grant will be used so that a signature mural by national artist Richard Haas can grace the Heartside neighborhood by next spring. The mural will be located at the northwest corner of Cherry Street and South Division Avenue. The $10,000 grant, given to Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids Inc. and its Heartside Mainstreet initiative, looks to promote more artistic activity and economic development in the area.

“Richard Haas is nationally known for his trompe l’oeil paintings,” said Heather Aldridge, director of Heartside Mainstreet. “Throughout the country, Haas murals have transformed nondescript exterior walls into three-dimensional scenes with skyscrapers, Greek archways and Swiss chalets.”

Dwelling Place also received a $40,000 CEDF grant for the Heartside Mainstreet program that will help building owners overcome the barriers to rehabilitating their properties. The Heartside Mainstreet project has inventoried available space along Division Avenue, recruited businesses into empty storefronts, provided support and incentives for those moving into the spaces and worked to improve facades and streetscapes.

“Heartside Mainstreet has been effective, but is just on the verge of seeing its efforts take off,” said Laura Craft, GRCF program director. “This funding will provide the resources needed to move development to the next level.”

The Greater Grand Rapids Chamber Foundation is also the recipient of two CEDF grants. The first, for $40,000, will help improve the appearance and stability of inner city business districts and the second, for $30,000, will help beautify the Burton Heights Business District and surrounding neighborhoods.

“Façade improvement programs are vital to the success of challenged inner city neighborhoods,” said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program, which receives in-kind support from the chamber. “They improve the appearance of older commercial areas, they are a catalyst for other development and they make the districts feel more inviting. They also encourage pedestrian traffic and discourage crime.”

The Burton Heights project began as a collaboration of the Burton Heights Business Association and the Division Avenue Business District in Wyoming to enhance the corner of South Division Avenue and 28th Street, which serves as a gateway to both communities.

The project fulfills part of the City of Grand Rapids’ Master Plan by improving a key entry to Grand Rapids on a high-traffic “image street.” It is also a project supported by the NBSP, an economic development partnership of the City of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Neighborhood Business Alliance.

The gateway plan calls for painting both railway trestles near the intersection, placing welcoming signs to each community and planting a small pocket park on the northeast corner of the intersection. The current park area will be enhanced with landscaping, a small wall and new plantings.           

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