Published at PO Box 96 124 W. St. Clair Romeo, MI 48065. Phone: (586)752-3524 Fax: (586)752-0548
Updated Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 3 PM EST
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You are Viewing an Archived IssuePosted: 09/26/12
DEVELOPING DOWNTOWN. Above, Village of Romeo and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) officials walk through downtown with representatives from Macomb County and the state. From left, Stacy Esbrook of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, DDA Chairperson Merrick Maris, Village President Mike Lee, DDA Director Jason Arnott, John-Paul Rea and Jeff Schroeder of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development and DDA Executive Director Kim Hale. Below, Arnott shows the plans for renovating Taylor Alley, located next to the BP gas station.
(Observer photos by Chris Gray)
Grant programs scarce
in Michigan, DDA learns
by CHRIS GRAYIt takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a lot more to raise funding for improving that village.
Observer Staff Writer
Romeo officials discovered that grant opportunities are far and few between, but have the assistance of the county and even the state in obtaining them.
Major projects the village is researching costs major bucks. For instance, the Romeo Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) streetscape plan from 2009 is estimated at $2 million, while a project that would spruce up Taylor Alley and install dumpster corrals would be a maximum of $180,000.
The village has also sought out renovations for E. 32 Mile Road, though the price tag is a hefty $432,000, half of which the village would pay.
Meanwhile, the DDA is examining smaller projects to tackle, including a dumpster corral in the northeast quadrant, way-finding signs for downtown and road signs for the bypass.
To receive assistance in paying for these projects, the DDA invited Macomb County and state representatives to check out downtown on Sept. 20 and offer any advice.
John-Paul Rea, associate planner with Macomb Planning and Economic Development, said grants are quite competitive because the pot of money at the community level is dwindling.
He said a large portion of obtaining grants is the local match amount. For instance, a grant could require at least a 20 percent match from the community to qualify.
"You look at the applicability of the grant to the applicability of the project because it's so much more important finding out what is the best grant for your project," he said.
Kim Hale, DDA Executive Director, agreed grant opportunities for "sticks and bricks" projects are limited, competitive and specific.
"The grants that are available would only fund 70 to 80 percent of the project," she said. "We only have $35,000 in the fiscal year 2012-13 budget for Blueprint projects."
She said the DDA can only pursue certain grants due to those cost limitations. For instance, the DDA couldn't go after a $4 million grant despite it covering the costs of the DDA's streetscape plan.
"We're not going to be undertaking any major streetscaping plans simply because we don't have the 20 to 30 percent," she said.
Hale said the DDA could work in tandem with the village to define how much money the entities can pool together for projects.
Conversely, she said the DDA could save its funds to build up a larger pool of funding to contribute to grants or projects.
"Does it make sense to spend the money we have every year, or does it make sense to hold and save for a couple of years?" she said.
County and state representatives pointed the DDA toward grant opportunities and how to liven up downtown.
For instance, the Michigan Economic and Development Corporation (MEDC) has a pool of $100 million it can distribute for projects, such as with brownfield sites. The brownfield credit provides funding for cleaning properties that are or could be contaminated.
Stacy Esbrook, community assistance team specialist with the MEDC, said the program can be used to clean up sites that are considered blight. About $40 million of the $100 million is meant for community development projects.
"It would be more of a building rather than a streetscape, though those could be components of a bigger project," she said.
Esbrook said the village should concentrate on bringing people in and making improvements at the same time, not one or the other.
"You need to start getting people downtown and using the success of those businesses to help finance some of those improvements that have to be made," she said.
Village President Mike Lee spoke on the village's requests for altering Van Dyke to have additional crosswalks or better signaling, saying only the latter project has been met with positive input from the county.
"The best thing that we could possibly have instead of the crosswalk is a more user-friendly traffic light," Lee said.
Rea agreed that modernizing the signals could be the crux of improving traffic downtown.
"The more efficient we can move those cars and more efficient we can move pedestrians across, the better it is from a safety standpoint but also for people accessing businesses and services within the community," he said.
Representatives also mentioned the trust fund grant program from the Department of Natural Resources, which can range from trail management to recreation acquisition.