GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate $108 million in federal stimulus funds to 30 local projects as several commissioners described the process as highly politicized.
The list of community projects and funding amounts approved on Thursday differs from the 21 recommendations put forth last month by the county administration.
Commissioners Monica Sparks and Michelle McCloud pointed out that The Diatribe Inc.’s $2 million plan for an arts and cultural hub in Grand Rapids’ Burton Heights neighborhood was left out of Thursday’s resolution, even though the project ranked highly among commissioners during a previous exercise.
Commissioners David Bulkowski, Stephen Wooden, Matt Kallman, Robert Womack, Phil Skaggs and Melissa LaGrand all said they were disappointed to see the project excluded in the funding resolution.
The Diatribe’s funding request was taken off the list based on “politics and fear that people would be primaried,” Skaggs said during the meeting, referring to future elections. Skaggs, a Democrat, recently elected to the state House, criticized granting ARPA funding to renovate the Four Star Theatre on the city’s south side, subsidizing an expansion at the West Michigan Construction Institute, and $2 million for the Krause Memorial Library in Rockford.
“There are a lot of good things in here, but there’s a lot of bad things,” Skaggs said. “It isn’t what I wanted. It isn’t perfect. I’m sick to my stomach, I didn’t sleep last night.”
During a public comment period this morning, four people criticized the removal of The Diatribe’s project, while several others discussed the importance of supporting the arts and Black and brown-led projects.
“What the public doesn’t know is that this project is being held hostage by politics and politicians,” The Diatribe Executive Director Marcel Price said during the meeting. “I’m asking for the resources to do more and continue doing it right. I’m asking you all to please bring our proposal back and to give me and to give our people something to celebrate.”
Despite several commissioners criticizing the ARPA process and how projects were selected, the funding resolution for the 30 projects passed unanimously. The board also voted to set aside $9 million in remaining ARPA funds.
Even though McCloud disagreed with portions of the funding resolution, she voted to support it because it was likely the best possible outcome for the projects she backed.
“I didn’t want to tank the whole thing, and who knows what would have come out on the other end,” McCloud told MiBiz after the vote. “Housing, mental health and a lot of the things the community raised as priorities, there were a lot of those things in (the project list). That’s how we got here, it turned political. What we got next probably would have been no community projects, and everything would have gone to the county. I’m not ever going to sign off on that and this was probably the best version we’re going to get. I will keep working with those who didn’t get funded to help them get resources and support.”
Kent County received a total of nearly $128 million in ARPA funds. Of that, $10 million was allocated in January 2022 for county projects and $737,000 was directed in April to cover additional overtime expenses at the Kent County Sheriff’s Office.
Kent County solicited proposals from the community to spend most of the county’s nearly $128 million in ARPA funds. Individuals and community groups submitted 319 proposals, and 13 internal county projects were put forth and considered by county staff and commissioners. County staff and commissioners whittled proposals following public feedback surveys, meetings and a commissioner-ranking exercise.
Here’s a full list of the projects approved today:
- Kent County Revolving Housing Fund ($17.5 million): The revolving loan fund would offer low- or no-interest loans to housing projects that would reduce the high cost burden of housing for people across the economic spectrum.
- Kent County Equitable Housing Initiative ($500,000): Nonprofit housing advocacy group Housing Next will form a data-driven approach to identify barriers in development and support local municipalities that are prepared or already seeking changes in their zoning ordinance to facilitate housing projects better.
- Four Star Theatre Renovation ($500,000): Marcus Ringnalda submitted plans to redevelop the historic theatre on Grand Rapids’ south side.
- Boston Square Hub ($4 million): Amplify GR is leading a $100 million redevelopment called Boston Square Together, located in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square neighborhood. The project contains a community hub, which involves a two-story, 45,000-square-foot multipurpose community facility with a health clinic, early childhood center, offices for Amplify GR, co-working space, community bank and event space.
- Krause Memorial Library ($2 million) submitted by the city of Rockford.
- Junior Achievement Free Enterprise Center ($1 million): Junior Achievement of Michigan Great Lakes is establishing a new facility called the JA Free Enterprise Center in Grand Rapids, which would house three learning labs: JA BizTown, JA Finance Park, and JA Enterprise Incubator.
- Nourish Tomorrow Advancement Campaign ($2 million): Feeding America West Michigan is relocating to a new facility in Kentwood to expand its programs and services.
- Spay Neuter Initiative Partnership ($1 million): The Community Spay Neuter Initiative Partnership (CSNIP) addresses the chronic overpopulation of dogs and cats in Kent County, and plans to expand surgical capacity and the range of veterinary services available to local pet owners who can’t afford care when their pet is in need.
- Behavioral Health Crisis Center ($3.9 million) submitted by Kent County and Network 180.
- John Ball Zoo expansion enhanced community engagement ($6 million): John Ball Zoo submitted two separate ARPA project proposals, including an expansion that would add a giraffe habitat along with three other African species, infrastructure and pathways to support the exhibits, as well as restrooms and a small cafe.
- Kent County Parks/Greenway project ($15 million) submitted by Kent County.
- School Safety Radio Network ($2.8 million) submitted by Kent County/Kent County Sheriff’s Office.
- Medical Examiner Facility ($6 million) submitted by Kent County.
- Lead remediation ($3.8 million) submitted by Kent County/Kent County Health Department.
- Sports Complex Expansion ($1 million): The West Michigan Sports Commission plans an $11 million expansion to the Meijer Sports Complex to upgrade visitor amenities, expand sports for girls, and accommodate more senior athletes at the facility.
- Wyoming City Center Bridge and Trail Activation ($6 million): The city of Wyoming plans to construct two new pedestrian bridges, 4.6 miles of new trails and civic space in a multi-phased, public-private development.
- The Grand Agricultural Center of West Michigan ($6 million): The $37 million project led by the Kent County Youth Agricultural Association would repurpose the former Deer Run Golf Course in Lowell into a multi-purpose, public space that contains a youth and family entertainment and educational venue. A campground with amenities and regional railway connections would also be included.
- Grand Rapids Public Museum upgrades ($1 million).
- Kent County Domestic Violence Action Network ($4 million) submitted by the Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team.
- Kent County road work ($8.5 million) submitted by the Kent County Road Commission.
- Capital enhancements for facilities serving older adults ($500,000) submitted by Kent County/Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan.
- United Methodist Community House 900 ($1 million) submitted by United Methodist Community House.
- PFAS remediation ($3 million) submitted by the city of Grand Rapids and Cascade Township.
- Workforce development for economic mobility ($1 million) submitted by the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation.
- West Michigan Construction Institute expansion ($1 million).
- Workforce training program ($138,000) submitted by the Wyoming/Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce.
- Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund for Kent County’s Hispanic Community ($2 million) submitted by the Hispanic Center of West Michigan.
- CDFI fund for Kent County’s African American Community ($4 million) submitted by Urban League of West Michigan.
- A place-based approach to reducing health disparities in Kent County’s African American community ($1 million) submitted by the Grand Rapids Health Institute
- AYA Youth Collective submitted healthcare access for young adults ($2 million).