Projects Awarded Cool Cities Grants

June 4, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The city went 2-for-3 last week in the Cool Cities Pilot Program competition, meaning state money is going to a pair of local projects.

The Avenue for the Arts and the Uptown Revitalization projects will now receive catalyst grants of up to $100,000 and access to more money and advice through a “resource toolbox” that contains community improvement grants, loans and assistance programs.

Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program, which helped with one of the applications, told the Business Journal she was pleased that the state included two local projects in the pilot initiative.

The Uptown project links four nearby business districts, East Fulton, Eastown, Wealthy Street and Cherry-Lake-Diamond, together into the Uptown district. The grant money will go toward a retail development, façade improvements, and a wayfinding design effort.

Avenue for the Arts will renovate seven South Division Avenue buildings into gallery and living space for artists, create a public art piece, add a mural to an outside wall of the former Reptile House, and build an indoor urban market at Ionia and Wealthy.

“To have a lot of grants concentrated in those areas should make a really dramatic visual impact on those areas,” said Evoy.

The size of the grant that each will receive wasn’t made known with the announcement that 20 projects were selected for the program from the 151 that applied. Kalamazoo and Saugatuck also had projects chosen.

The Department of Labor and Growth, History, Arts and Libraries, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. are funding the grants.

The lone city project that wasn’t selected was the Turner Avenue Gateway, a mile-long, scenic, “green” effort that would direct visitors from Leonard Street NW to downtown via Turner Avenue and would improve a near West Side neighborhood.

Another application that was passed over came from the city of Greenville.

Last month at a Cool Cities forum put on by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Greenville Assistant City Manager Bryan Gruesbeck said he thought his city’s project would get funding. He said Greenville has a healthy commercial downtown district, an active arts group, and a loft-style residential project underway.

But whether or not the city was picked for a pilot grant, Gruesbeck felt the city had to be the catalyst behind a good quality of life for Greenville, a pleasant city soon to lose thousands of manufacturing jobs.

“There is more to Cool Cities than the manufacturing aspect,” he said. “We have to have the quality-of-life issue to get investments.”

Lowell wasn’t among the 112 cities that applied for a pilot grant; City Manager David Pasquale said his city needed to do more planning in order to get a program up and running. He added, though, that the city was happy with recent developments in its downtown, which includes a popular new restaurant from the Gilmore Group — The Flat River Grill.

Pasquale also said local arts groups and small businesses, like those in an antiques mall, are in position to help draw investment to Lowell.

“Culture in a small town can have a big economic benefit,” he said.

Pasquale also felt that the farmland preservation effort coming from Kent County and area foundations, including one in Lowell, could sway rural investors to take a close look at Lowell.

“It’s not a cure-all,” he said of the county program. “But it can help.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm unveiled the Cool Cities Pilot Program in early April to help foster economic development in the state’s urban centers.

“If Michigan is to be competitive in the 21st century economy, we have to attract new businesses and retain the highly-educated, talented young people who are crucial to building and sustaining businesses in today’s global marketplace,” said Granholm.

Charlene Crowell, of the Michigan Land Use Institute, felt historic preservation efforts would play an important role in helping to determine where the young the governor has targeted would choose to live.

“The real spirit of Cool Cities is entrepreneurial,” said Crowell. “Cool Cities is not about what you can suck out of Lansing.”    

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