How $6.1M will support 17 placemaking projects across West Michigan

Placemaking is a way for communities to reimagine and renovate their public places. It often centers on paying attention to the physical, cultural, and social identity of a place. The investment can lead to better economic outcomes, improved accessibility, job growth, and smart innovation, experts say. The payoff can create strong and connected neighborhoods that increase civic engagement, according to a recent study

A new grant of $6.1 million in state funds will help spur the development of 17 placemaking projects totaling over $41 million across the region.

This infusion of capital is the result of a collaboration of West Michigan economic development organizations Greater Muskegon Economic Development, Lakeshore Advantage, and The Right Place Inc., in partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“Collaboration with our regional partners has led to another successful advancement for our communities,” said Marla Schneider, president of Greater Muskegon Economic Development. “As West Michigan continues to grow, the new developments in our communities are yet another testament to our unwavering commitment to the prosperity of our current and future citizens and businesses.”

The plan for the West Colby Promenade in the city of Whitehall. (Muskegon County)

In Muskegon County, the funds will support the West Colby Promenade in the city of Whitehall. It will provide a walkway connecting Colby Street downtown and Goodrich Park, including a wheelchair-accessible pathway.

An aerial rendering of what Holland Community Ice Skating Park will look like when completed. (City of Holland)

In Ottawa County, the funds will support Holland Community Ice Skating Park in the city of Holland. This project was launched with a $1 million gift from retired teacher Frank Kraai, who wanted to bring “joy” to his community. That gift inspired a second $1 million gift from the family of Jim Jurries, followed by a successful crowdfunding campaign for the $8 million project.

A graphic showing the plan for a new Fennville downtown amphitheater. (City of Fennville)
In Allegan County, the grants will help fund a new Fennville downtown amphitheater for the community’s summer concerts and other events, and the Mahan Park Improvement Project, in the city of Allegan along the Kalamazoo River. 

‘Power of collaboration’

The funds, approved this month at a Michigan Strategic Fund meeting, come from the Revitalization and Placemaking Program, or RAP. This incentive program deployed $100 million in American Rescue Plan funding to Michigan communities to address the impacts of COVID-19. This recent distribution is the second round of funding available to the region. In 2022, the region received $3.6 million to support nine projects.

 “This funding speaks to the power of collaboration in strengthening places and spaces across the West Michigan region,” said Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage, which supports economic development in Ottawa and Allegan counties. “Vibrant city spaces are a crucial component to attracting and retaining the people who live and work here, and who keep our economy strong.”

The 17 projects receiving funding:
  • Fennville downtown amphitheater, city of Fennville, Allegan County, for $112,500
  • Mahan Park improvement project, city of Allegan, Allegan County, for $160,000
  • City of Hastings DDA streetscape, city of Hastings, Barry County, for $474,500
  • Looking Glass River Plaza, city of Portland, Ionia County, for $200,000
  • 36th Street Marketplace, city of Wyoming, Kent County, for $450,000
  • Sullivan Field restoration, city of Grand Rapids, Kent County, for $680,000
  • Dwight Lydell Park restoration, Plainfield Township, Kent County, for $175,000
  • Cascade Library outdoor gGardens, Cascade Township, Kent County, for $450,000
  • Improvements to Canal Park, city of Grand Rapids, Kent County, for $750,000
  • Garden Club Park phase II, city of Rockford, Kent County, for $335,000
  • Thornapple River pedestrian bridge, Ada Township, Kent County, for $425,000
  • Depot Trailhead Park, city of Big Rapids, Mecosta County, for $450,000
  • Stone Hatchery Park, Green Township, Mecosta County, for $54,000
  • West Colby Promenade, city of Whitehall, Muskegon County, for $247,500
  • Vida Weaver Park Pavilion, village of Hesperia, Newaygo County, for $45,000
  • Shelby Community Park, Shelby Township, Oceana County, for $112,500
  • Holland Community Ice Skating Park, city of Holland, Ottawa County, $800,000

41 applications received

A team from the three West Michigan economic development organizations led the application process for the communities applying for funds. The team received 41 applications from 11 counties totaling over $91 million. In the end, 17 placemaking projects from 9 counties were selected on the basis of their ideas to reactivate lost, underutilized, or vacant spaces.
The RAP program provides access to infrastructure development gap financing through grants of up to $5 million per project for real estate rehabilitation and development, grants of up to $1 million per project for public space improvements, and grants of up to $20 million to local or regional partners who develop a coordinated subgrant program.

Eligible applicants were individuals or entities working to rehabilitate vacant, underutilized, blighted, and historic structures and the development of permanent place-based infrastructure associated with traditional downtowns, social zones, outdoor dining, and placed-based public spaces.

“Placemaking and community development is economic development, " says Tim Mroz, Senior Vice President of Community Development at The Right Place Inc. “That’s why The Right Place is so committed to this work. The communities included in this RAP grant get it. They understand that tomorrow’s growing, vibrant communities are investing in placemaking today. Those actions will pay dividends for decades to come.”

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.