Turner Gateway Gets UCB Grant

August 8, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The drive to turn Turner Avenue into a green gateway that will take travelers from the northwest side into downtown got a bit greener last week when the Urban Cooperation Board awarded the project a two-year, $20,000 grant.

Project planners will use those dollars as matching money to a Michigan Department of Transportation grant they hope to receive late this year. The grant money would pay for native plants and small parks on the MDOT rights-of-way along the southbound walls of U.S. 131 on Turner Avenue from Leonard to Tenth streets. But that work only accounts for phase one of the beautification project.

Planners are also hoping to build a rain garden south of the first-phase work on Turner between Fourth and Third streets, just behind the West Middle Public School and below the overpass where I-196 crosses U.S. 131.

The West Michigan Environmental Action Council, an advocate of rain gardens as an anti-runoff and pollution tool, is expected to work with the West Grand Neighborhood Organization, the agency behind the project, to create what could become the largest rain garden in West Michigan. If fields aren’t counted, it could become the largest in the state.

“We have a lot of runoff and drains that come directly off 131 into that area. The rain garden acts as a buffer for the natural system to take stormwater and then cleanse lots of nasties out of it before it hits the water table,” said Rob McCarty, business district developer for WGNO.

“These rain gardens can take up to six inches of water an hour, which is a lot of rain,” he added.

A cost estimate for the garden runs from $16,000 to $20,000.

“We’ve been developing this rain-garden plan for probably the past three or four months and this UCB grant is a blessing to help us be able to pull it off,” said McCarty.

WGNO is trying to tap into TEA 21 funds through MDOT. These are federal dollars that are exclusively allocated to states for enhancement and beautification projects along highways and streets, and can’t be used for road repairs or new construction.

The neighborhood agency has gotten city help to secure a TEA 21 grant. A cost estimate for the entire first phase of the project shows that it could run as high as $700,000. The budget for the work is being put together now and everyone involved with the project should have a better idea of its actual cost within 60 days. WGNO has written the first draft of the MDOT grant and it’s with the city now.

“If we can get this grant request off in the next two months, I think we could possibly see a grant approval in December and, maybe if we can find the funders, we could start this spring. That may be optimistic at this point, but I think our program stands on its own,” said McCarty.

WGNO isn’t going it alone on the gateway. The city and Meijer Inc. CEO Hank Meijer support the effort, as do the Frey and Dyer-Ives foundations. Michael Corby of Integrated Architecture and the Grand Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects designed the gateway. McCarty also singled out Bob Daverman of Progressive AE for his “amazing” work over the past eight months.

“He has basically opened Progressive up to us,” McCarty said.

Chris Lehr is the contractor for the project. Lehr, a scientist from Native Scapes LLC in Manchester, Mich., is choosing the plant species that will line Turner Avenue.

The UCB awarded 23 grants last week worth $390,000. The cities of East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids, Kentwood, and Walker and the townships of Ada, Cascade, Grand Rapids, Tallmadge and Wright make up the UCB and their dues to the organization comprise the grant money that is awarded. To win an award, a project has to have a regional impact.

Although McCarty felt WMEAC will be a tremendous help with creating the rain garden, he said WGNO could use a few contributions to help with purchasing the plants for it. If McCarty finds that money, he said work on the garden would start when the project’s first phase gets underway.

The second stage would see the same type of work done along Turner, but extended from Tenth to Sixth streets.

“What we are going to do for Turner Avenue, everyone will wish they had done,” said McCarty. “When we’re done in 10 years, this will be seen as the way to do it. This won’t be a Band-Aid.”           

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