Focus, Economic Development, and Government

Communities create a ‘grand strategy’ focusing on Grand River projects

The $444M plan, encompassing sites from Lowell to Grandville, is vying for a HUD grant.

September 4, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Grand Strategy
The Grand River is a pillar of Grand Rapids' economic development vision. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Several area communities, including Grand Rapids and Kent County, are in the running for millions of dollars from the federal government.

A collaborative West Michigan project called The Grand Strategy is competing for a portion of $1 billion to be allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the National Disaster Resilience Competition, launched in September 2014.

The grants are available to communities that have been struck by natural disasters in recent years. All states with counties that experienced a Presidentially Declared Major Disaster in 2011, 2012 or 2013 were eligible to submit applications.

West Michigan communities in the running for the grants are those that were greatly affected by the April 2013 flooding of the Grand River, including Kent County, Lowell, Ada, Cascade and Plainfield townships and the cities of Grand Rapids, Walker and Grandville.

The Grand Strategy, which was entered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., is one of 40 applications to advance following Phase 1 of the competition.

Sixty-seven communities across the country initially applied for the funds.

The West Michigan communities and the MEDC are working together on the proposal for Phase 2, which is due Oct. 27. The grants awarded nationally following Phase 2 will range from a maximum of $500 million to a minimum of $1 million.

The amounts will be announced in early 2016, likely in January.

“This is yet another collaborative effort of Kent County and the region — an inclusive effort,” Kent County Assistant County Administrator Wayman Britt said.

“The Grand Strategy emphasizes restoring and working with nature to more effectively manage future flood events throughout the county and to protect vulnerable populations in both urban and suburban communities.

“This is not about sustaining the old; it is about improving the present and setting the stage for an exceptional future,” Britt added.

The Grand Strategy includes 65 coordinated projects that would include:

  • Resilient flood protection along the Grand River from Lowell to Grandville
  • Economic opportunities
  • Enhanced access to the river and recreational opportunities
  • Improved habitat, connectivity and water quality

Projects include better protection of clean water, wastewater facilities, drain improvements, and improved river response for rescues and evacuations.

The strategy also includes Grand Rapids Whitewater, which aims to restore the rapids on the Grand River and provide recreation and economic opportunities in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Grand Strategy strives to create a river environment that attracts and serves a diverse population, restores and repurposes land for economic, environmental and social resiliency, and protects the infrastructure to safeguard public health and the economy.

“Implementing The Grand Strategy to restore the Grand River and build up our region’s resilience to extreme flooding will help stave off expensive and debilitating disaster,” said Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

“The initiative will significantly improve West Michigan’s quality of life, leverage substantial private investment in the community building, and catalyze the region’s next generation of growth and success.”

Organizers of The Grand Strategy found projects that had been discussed but were deemed not financially feasible by independent communities, totaling approximately $444 million. The group has identified nearly $200 million in support of those projects from various sources, so the proposal requests $244 million from HUD to make up the balance.

Without the partnerships of the communities, it is unlikely the area would be in the running for a HUD grant.

“Our ability to work this rapidly on such a major regional endeavor is because we all planned ahead together,” Grand Rapids Assistant City Manager Eric DeLong said.

“The application so much reflects all of the work we’ve done, along with community planning efforts such as Green Grand Rapids and GR Forward, to get ahead on resiliency, sustainability and flood control mitigation. It’s amazing how all of that work accelerated this application.

“The quality of our planning is excellent, and we are in a great position to create a resilient River City.”

The HUD grant allocates at least $181 million to New York and New Jersey. The finalists include 26 state applications including the MEDC’s, six counties/parishes, seven cities — including New York City, Chicago and New Orleans — and Puerto Rico.

HUD is providing approximately two dozen webinars and offers other online resources for applicants to understand challenges and opportunities in the future.

“HUD is committed to helping communities meet the realities of climate change and extreme weather,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said.

“We’re proud to partner with the Rockefeller Foundation in supporting American families as they recover from natural disasters and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow. Together, we can build a nation that’s stronger and more resilient than ever.”

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