GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Communities along the Grand River in Kent County, including Grand Rapids, could potentially secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grant money.
Nearly $1 billion is up for grabs for communities across the country hit by a natural disaster between 2011 and 2013, including major flooding events. The money was set aside by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2014.
The Grand Rapids region is just one of 40 communities nationwide—and the only in Michigan— that remains in the running for the funds. Nationwide, sixty-five communities were originally in the running for the grant.
The communities along the Grand River became eligible following the 2013 flooding event.
“If you think back to 2013, things were pretty chaotic around here," said Andy Guy with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. "That was only a 25-year flood event. Imagine what happens when the big one comes. So that was really a wake up call.”
The flooding provided the impetus for what has now been dubbed "The Grand Strategy," a collaborative project between the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Kent County, the city of Grand Rapids and Downtown GR Inc. to establish a regional approach to river renewal and restoration.
Backers are now feverishly working on a final proposal to present to officials in Washington D.C. by Oct. 27. Talks have already begun with state representatives in D.C. in hopes of pushing support of the project forward, Guy said.
With an estimated price tag of roughly $400 million to implement the Grand Strategy, backers are hoping to secure $200 million in federal grant money in additional to the roughly $200 million already secured through local governments and philanthropic efforts.
The strategy focuses on three key values and includes roughly two dozen initiatives along the entire 35-mile stretch of river across the county to transition the river from a liability to an asset, Guy said.
- Safeguarding the local public and economy during flooding
- Re-purposing assets to manage and recover faster from future flood events
- Establish more public access to river
- "Gray-to-green" transformations of core riverfront sites in downtown Grand Rapids
- Restoring the rapids in the Grand River
- Improve storm water retention
- Purchasing key property in flood prone areas across the county in areas like Cascade, Plainfield, Wyoming, and Grandville
- Expanding wetlands and park lands along river front
"This opportunity in Washington D.C. could be game changing for us," Guy said. "Not only to stave off future expensive disasters but also significantly enhance West Michigan’s quality of life, catalyze new investment in development, and really set the stage for the next generation of growth.”
Guy said there is hope their strategy could provide the framework for riverfront communities across the Great Lakes region.
Two public hearings are scheduled before the proposal is submitted to HUD:
- Oct. 20, 5:30 p.m., DeVos Place Convention Center, Chase Boardroom (2nd floor), 303 Monroe NW, Grand Rapids
- Oct. 20, 7 p.m., Plainfield Charter Township Hall, 6161 Belmont NE, Belmont
Grants awarded to communities will range between $1 million and $500 million, and grant applicants could be awarded less than their requested amount.
"The fact there are resources in D.C. available just for this sort of work, is a once in a generation opportunity for Grand Rapids and West Michigan," Guy said.
“We’re going to deliver some significant benefits to this community if we’re able to pull those dollars in."
HUD is expected to announce the communities chosen to receive the grant funds in early 2016. The finalists include 26 states, seven cities, six counties, and Puerto Rico.