Kent Co. officials rank more than 300 proposals seeking $127 million in federal ARPA funds

GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County residents and representatives of local organizations pleaded Friday for a portion of the $127 million the county is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act.

During a four-hour public work session, the Kent County Board of Commissioners began sifting through the more than 300 project proposals and 13 internal county projects they will consider funding with the dollars from ARPA. Many projects submitted for ARPA funding have gained momentum over several years, such as the renovation of the Four Star Theater in Grand Rapids.

The $4 million renovation of the historic Division Avenue theater was announced in the summer of 2019, and project leaders are seeking $1.6 million from the county’s ARPA allocation.

“Creating a world-class cultural arts venue in one of the most underserved and densely populated neighborhoods in our community will create immense and transformational impact for a better quality of life in an area of ​​our community. which received only a small fraction of the investment,” Marcus Ringnalda, who originally purchased the theater before a nonprofit acquired it for the renovation project, said at the meeting. “With few exceptions, projects like this don’t happen without at least one-third funding from public sources. With this funding, this project is moving forward full steam ahead.”

Victor Williams, who runs the Boston Square Neighborhood Association, spoke as a representative of the Boston Square Community Hub, which is seeking $5 million in the Kent County ARPA pot. The community hub would be a mixed-use facility that is part of Amplify GRof $100 million for the redevelopment of Boston Square on the south side of Grand Rapids.

“It’s resident driven, we were at the table for four years to make sure equity was part of the process and we negotiated with Amplify GR to get a community grocery store and a community financial institution to make sure that residents can stay in the community and the area is not gentrified,” Williams said at the meeting. “We want to make sure Boston Square residents have the opportunity to stay in Boston Square.”

Approximately $11 million of the county’s total ARPA funding has already been spent or is being used for county projects. The plan for the remaining funds is to bring some of the county’s 319 community proposals and 13 internal projects to fruition. The county accepted submissions from members of the public and local organizations between May 20 and July 15.

During Friday’s business session, 18 county commissioners (Commissioner David Bulkowski was absent) were each given a remote control selector and asked to rate each project proposal on a 1-5 scale, from “weak priority” to “high priority”.

No votes were taken during Friday’s business session, but county staff members are creating a series of ARPA funding programs using specific proposals for the Board of Commissioners to consider and will vote before the end of 2022. Most of the projects received low to moderate priority ratings from commissioners, which could reflect how selective commissioners will have to be with the funds. The project proposals far exceed the amount of funds available.

However, the county is open to working with individuals to help identify other sources of funding for projects not selected for ARPA funding, Board Chairman Stan Stek said during the meeting. meeting.

“Please don’t lose your visions,” Stek said. “These are ideas that have legs.”

Kent County surveyed residents online and held town hall meetings over the summer to gather information about community needs and how people want ARPA funds spent. The need for more affordable housing was a common theme everywhere, as MiBiz previously reported.

The Kent County Fair Housing Initiative proposed by ICCF Community Homes was one of 11 affordable housing projects submitted for ARPA funding by the community. Plans call for the construction of 211 affordable housing units for low- and middle-income households; renovate and preserve 322 affordable rental units; and providing top-up funding to support 64 affordable assisted living rental units in two different locations.

“I am here to ask you to fund (the Kent County Fair Housing Initiative), a truly transformational project that will help hundreds of working households in our community across Kent County,” said Ryan VerWys, President and CEO of ICCF Community Homes. during the meeting.

The ICCF project and nearly all of the other housing proposals received low ratings from the commissioners, except for one option that offers a revolving loan fund for affordable housing. The housing revolving loan fund was a late addition to the proposals because ARPA funds were previously prohibited from being used to create a revolving loan fund, Kent County Administrator Al Vanderberg said.

“The potential would exist to create something that all of the (affordable housing) projects here could apply to and it would also create the opportunity to really have a county-wide impact,” Vanderberg said.

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