Funding for corridor study a surprise

March 12, 2012
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When Grand Rapids Planning Director Suzanne Schulz was putting the Michigan Street Corridor Study together, she wasn’t certain how many dollars she would be able to find to fund the work. But the amount she has found so far — $977,246 — was way more than she expected.

“We were surprised when everything was added up. Once the scope of the project took form and was expressed in a way that resonated with people, the response from local, state and federal partners was really amazing,” said Schulz, whose department is guiding the work.

The study’s largest contribution, nearly $460,000, came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority donated $150,000, while the Grand Valley Metro Council gave the project an $80,000 federal grant it was awarded.

Many other local organizations, including foundations, educational facilities and governmental agencies, contributed to the study, which was sparked by the growing traffic congestion that has plagued the Medical Mile, the business district and the adjacent neighborhoods.

“This project reflects a systems-thinking approach that demonstrates how infrastructure, transportation, housing, jobs and public health are interrelated. There are not a lot of simple decisions to be made when we look at the Michigan Street Corridor. We need to think more broadly to ensure that decisions avoid potentially expensive and unintended consequences,” said Schulz.

Portions of the work are done. Zimmerman/Volk Associates has completed a housing study and U3 Ventures has put together an employment portrait of the study area, which runs east from the Grand River to East Beltline Avenue, and south from Leonard to Fulton Street.

The four-mile district has seven residential neighborhoods with 20,000 residents, numerous businesses and the city’s major health institutions. About 50,000 people work and attend school within 50 acres of the study area, and more than 30,000 vehicles travel the corridor every weekday.

The piece from Zimmerman/Volk reported that 45 percent of city residents and 30 percent of county residents combine to make up three-quarters of the district’s potential residents, with another 5 percent coming from Ottawa and Allegan counties, and the remaining 20 percent from the rest of the country.

The firm’s report said for-rent multi-family units, lofts and apartments made up the highest potential for housing in the area at 55 percent, with for-sale single-family units, like townhouses, next at 19 percent. Non-rental multi-family lofts and apartments were 16 percent of the market-type potential, and single-family homes on small lots came in at 9 percent.

Zimmerman/Volk concluded that younger singles and couples had the most potential to live in the study area, as those two groups were likely to make up seven of every 10 residents. Empty nesters and retirees were a distant second at 18 percent, and families brought up the rear at 11 percent.

“Millennials are demonstrating a strong preference for downtowns and walkable neighborhoods, particularly those served by transit, in contrast to the traditional family — a married couple with children that comprised the typical post-war American household,” read the report. “Millennials are predominately younger singles and couples.”

Schulz said developers and real estate agents were already using the study to better understand the market potential for housing in the study area and in other near-downtown neighborhoods. “And an employment study completed by U3 Ventures created a general employee profile from ‘eds and meds’ institutions that will assist in understanding the housing demand for live-work programs in the vicinity,” she added.

The work by U3 Ventures is important because only 3 percent who work in the study area’s health facilities also live in the district. The consultant found the district’s housing stock has 10,600 units, with 11 percent of those vacant in 2010; two-thirds were rentals, a third of the units were detached, and its density was generally higher than the city at large.

U3 Ventures also found that Michigan Street had “an incredible concentration of anchor institutions within tight confines,” and the street offered “little to neighborhood residents beyond (a) place of employment.”

According to the report, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, Saint Mary’s Health Care, the Van Andel Institute and Spectrum Health employed 19,800 in the study area in 2010.

The full reports from Zimmerman/Volk and U3 Ventures can be found at michiganstreetcorridor.us.

As the first-phase work is wrapping up, the corridor study is set to move into its next phase, which will see LSL Planning take over the role of project director. City commissioners recently allocated $325,457 to it, and it has an aggressive agenda to accomplish, including a detailed analysis of the area’s parking conditions, the production of a vision-and-goals document, and the development of a final corridor plan.

But another report is due next month.

“The Visioning and Scoping Report is expected in April and will really be a survey of existing conditions, including data on traffic, parking and people’s opinions of the corridor,” said Schulz. “We expect to take the results from our Quality of Life game that is out right now to help augment the data.”

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