More affordable housing and paid jobs to live among the things residents want in the developed Division Avenue corridor

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Better access to healthy food, more paid jobs, affordable housing, community events, and safer walking routes are just a few of the things some residents want to bring to the hallway. Division Avenue.

The feedback, collected in a recent online survey, will help shape a $ 945,000 effort by the Rapid public transportation system and three cities to plan for and later encourage economic development and improved quality of life. along 7 miles of Division Avenue, from Wealthy Street in the north to 60th Street in the south.

The company, run by The Rapid in partnership with Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming, is called “United Division, ” and its intention is to produce a coordinated plan to relaunch development in the corridor this never really materialized when The Rapid launched its Silver Line bus line in 2014.

“The transit investment was made in the corridor with the Silver Line, but what we didn’t see was the development around the Silver Line that we would like to see, which drove us where we are today, which is a more concerted effort between municipalities around development that can really harness the improved mode of public transportation that is in the corridor, ”said Bill Kirk, Commercial Affairs Specialist of Rapid.

The 7-mile stretch of Division Avenue through Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood has a “fair amount” of vacant and boarded up buildings and vacant properties, Kirk said. Developing these spaces was something the Silver Line was meant to spark.

The character of the corridor varies from densely populated and aging buildings to used car and auto repair shops, liquor stores, old factories, general merchandise chains, and ethnic kitchens and markets. .

The online survey, which received 272 responses and ended in late October, is one of Division United’s latest efforts to assess residents, community groups, businesses and economic developers on what they are considering. for the corridor.

The study to define a vision for Division Avenue, as well as how to achieve it, began in early 2019 with the award of $ 870,000 in federal and state transportation grants, as well as $ 25,000 in each of the cities involved.

Related: $ 1 million grant aims to boost economic development along Silver Line bus route

A final report on what stakeholders want and recommendations on how cities can achieve it is expected in early 2021, Kirk said. After that, he said, it is largely up to cities to implement policies and programs leading to development.

The economic development revival strategy will be based on other plans in the corridor, like the Grand Rapids South Division Corridor Plan.

The majority of the 272 people who responded to the online survey, about 67%, said they live near Division Avenue. Only 18.5% said they worked or owned a business along the corridor.

The survey asked people to pick their top picks on categories like mobility, economic development, neighborhoods, quality of life, community and identity. Participants could also provide written responses.

Some of the selections that received the most votes in all categories were:

  • Better access to fresh and healthy food (135)
  • Protection of current businesses and more programs for their expansion in place (122)
  • More community events celebrating the history and culture of Division Avenue (115)
  • Public land or underutilized areas converted into parks and squares (103)
  • Affordable housing programs that encourage low-income housing in every development (125)
  • Funding Resources or Incentive Programs for Home Repair and Renovation (123)
  • More decent-paying jobs in major undeveloped sites along Division Avenue (155)
  • Financing resources available for the repair and renovation of existing businesses (162)
  • Safer and comfortable walking and cycling options connecting to neighborhoods and schools (136)
  • Safer and more comfortable street crossings of Division Avenue (100)

Some of the writings from community members included wishes for lower rents, greater police presence, help with small businesses, resources for the homeless, earlier bus hours, and better weekend service. , more lighting, cleaner streets, the reopening of a food bank at 43rd Street and Suite.

“One of the things the project was looking to do is really get input from the stakeholders in the corridor and ask them what kind of development they would like to see. We wanted to avoid any sort of top-down recommendations, ”Kirk said. “But what we heard in our comments and our public outreach is very similar to what the project team felt was needed, namely more affordable housing opportunities, more job opportunities, more businesses. local. “

The United Division team also heard a community consensus on the desire for a more cohesive identity and better connections between areas along the 7 mile stretch.

“The folks down the hall that we hear about, they love that uniqueness that each of these areas offers, but what they would like to see is more connectivity so you don’t have those knots and then you walk around. a kilometer or two without connecting it too much, ”he said.

Kirk has no illusions that the United Division plan will immediately trigger development in the hallway. He called it a “long game”.

But part of the project’s job is also to identify ‘catalytic’ sites along the corridor, whether vacant properties or wasteland, which cities should target for investment in the first place.

“There are going to be elements of long-term implementation, but hopefully some of the sites identified as catalytic sites may see investments sooner,” he said. “I think the results won’t be instantaneous, you aren’t going to see a huge increase in development immediately, but the hope is that some of their more timely catalytic sites develop that they start to spread throughout the world. corridor. “

Kirk said the project team aims to complete the final report and recommendations by February 2021.

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