When we previewed last month’s Small Town and Rural Development Conference, Jessica AcMoody, policy director for the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, told us
the event “offers a great opportunity for those people working on behalf of the smaller communities in Michigan.” The communities of Big Rapids, Gaylord, and Hart would have to agree. It was at the conference that placemaking projects in those three cities took home first, second, and third place prizes, respectively, in the Consumers Energy Foundation’s 2022 Put Your Town on the Map pitch competition, which awarded a total of $50,000.
The Big Rapids Skatepark Project emerged from a field of 10 finalists to take home the $25,000 top prize. Rounding out the winners circle was second place Gaylord, which won $15,000 for Art in the Alley Way, a project that will clean up three blocks of downtown alleys and activate them as public gathering spaces highlighted by street art exhibitions, murals, and more. And in Hart, The Hart Project takes a third place prize of $10,000 for its plans to host a large art event, install 25 murals by 2025, and build a 20-foot tin man sculpture downtown.
Why it’s important:
Taking home the $25,000 grand prize pushes the Big Rapids Skatepark Project onto the ramp and now makes the project possible, says Jessie Black, Big Rapids Community Economic Development specialist. The skate park project has actually been in the works for about 10 years, she says, but struggled to complete the fundraising required. Winning the grand prize now brings the project’s total money raised to about $80,000, allowing the city to begin construction of phase one. It’s estimated that the project will ultimately cost upwards of $200,000; further fundraising is underway.
The project itself:
The Big Rapids Skatepark Project will be built in Swede Hill Park along the city’s Riverwalk trail. Black estimates the design process to wrap up come August, with the city breaking ground on the project in spring 2023. Phase one will include the concrete base, ramps, and other skating components. Public art features, including a graffiti wall, will be incorporated throughout. The eventual phase two will include an asphalt pump track.
What they’re saying:
Winning the grand prize “was really influential in making this project go from, you know, kind of just talk and an idea to a reality,” says Black, adding that, “in the remaining months of the year, we will work on further grant opportunities and fundraising to make sure that by the time spring comes around next year, we can just hit the ground running and build the skate park.”