Cool Cash

June 27, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS —Things are likely to get quite a bit grander in the West Grand neighborhood soon.

The West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) is expected to announce later today that it has received a grant from the state’s Cool Cities program totaling $100,000, money the group will use for its ongoing beautification program.

“The competition was a lot tighter this year,” said Rob McCarty, project manager for the WGNO effort. “So it’s even better that we were selected.”

Last year, the Cool Cities Initiative awarded 20 grants across the state with three going to local projects. But the guess is that only 13 to 15 will be awarded this year. Gov. Jennifer Granholm was the catalyst behind the effort, which is designed to revitalize urban centers.

WGNO plans to divide much of the grant money into smaller grants that it will award to business owners and homeowners in the near northwest side neighborhood for upgrades to building exteriors and entrances to the West Leonard and Stockbridge business districts. The grants will run about $3,000.

The area designated for a West Grand grant roughly runs south from Leonard Street NW to Bridge Street NW and then east from the west bank of the Grand River to Seward Avenue NW.

“There is a lot of opportunity. Anybody in that designated area will be able to apply for those dollars,” said McCarty.

The remainder of the Cool Cities funds will be used for neighborhood improvements, such as murals and gardens, and as start-up funding for a farmer’s market.

“There will be a mural on the Shade and Linoleum Shoppe. There are monies for a mural that would potentially be on the retaining wall south of the Sixth Street Bridge on Turner Avenue, which we envision as a rain garden mural,” said McCarty.

McCarty and the staff at WGNO have been working on the beautification effort for almost three years now. Roughly two years ago, the Urban Cooperation Board found the project was worthy of a two-year, $20,000 grant. The grant from the Cool Cities program is the project’s biggest gift to date and especially pleasing after not being approved last year.

“Rachel Hood has been my partner in this project. She is really our grant writer and has put the meetings together that have made so many things happen, especially in terms of the Cool Cities process. We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had a lot of great people around us,” said McCarty

A press conference announcing all the grant recipients statewide is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. today at Union Square, the former Union High and West Middle School at 615 Turner Ave. NW that Parkland Properties of West Michigan LLC is renovating into condominiums.

Parkland Properties owner Jonathan Rooks made a hefty contribution to the effort that nearly pays for a 16,000-square-foot rain garden proposed for Turner Avenue, across from Union Square. McCarty expects that the garden will be planted in October, if all the permits are approved by then.

“Jon has been just extraordinarily supportive. The state did site visits this year and we did that from his office, which looks out on where the rain garden is going to be. He has been very gracious and has been with us every step of the way,” said McCarty.

“I personally believe that the Union Square project has been the tipping point for this project. I don’t know how we would stack up if we didn’t have that project. We might still have gotten funded, but I don’t think we’d be as strong as we are.”    

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