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Monday, March 18,2013

Chasing cash in D.C.

The mayor is in Washington to track down federal money for REO Town and the old Verlinden plant

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, June 20 — Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is in Washington today to make the city’s case for about $2 million in federal grant money that would revamp Washington Avenue in REO Town and repurpose the former General Motors Co. manufacturing site on Verlinden Avenue.

A press release issued this morning by Bernero’s office said he is holding “key meetings with Obama Administration officials concerning several Lansing development projects.”

The city held public meetings in March to discuss the Washington Avenue project, which will include sidewalk improvements and road resurfacing. If the city lands a $500,000 grant through the Federal Highway Administration, Lansing Public Service Director Chad Gamble said that would create a “new piggy bank” for a “bigger and better type of project.”

Project estimates are at $1.8 million and the $500,000 would be added to that, Gamble said. The city budget for FY 2012, which begins July 1, includes $600,000 for the project, Gamble said. The rest will be paid for by state and federal grants.

The potential federal grant requires the city to put up $100,000, but Gamble said other grants can be used to pay for that. “It requires little to no additional out-of-pocket money from the city,” he said.

At the March meetings, ideas were floated that likely would have not fit into the original $1.8 million budget.

“Additional funding would pay for some of the things that we have already proposed, but it would give the REO Town area really the project we all hope for,” Gamble said. “(The grant) is perfect for what we are trying to do in REO Town, which is create an opportunity for businesses to follow on the coattails of the (Lansing Board of Water & Light cogeneration) power plant and to support and grow this area like we’ve been trying to do for many years now.”

Gamble said the extra money would go toward “extra brick work” and “greening the corridor.” He said the city was notified of the opportunity on May 25 and that the application deadline was within 22 days of that. The city turned in its application June 3 and projects will be chosen in the fall, Gamble said.

“We always hoped for the ability to make improvements from building to face to building face. With the funding limitations, we could only basically tear up remnants of old sidewalks there,” he said. “Now, this is opening up another dimension to really turn this into a truly transformative type of project.”

Gamble said construction is scheduled to begin next spring.

Bernero is also making the case to Obama administration officials that the city needs “under a couple million dollars” in federal grants to help repurpose the site of the old Verlinden manufacturing plant, said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Development Corp.

The city “intends” to apply for a grant through the federal Economic Development Administration for “public infrastructure improvements” at the 77-acre site, Trezise said.

“Our vision is for an eco-tech park, otherwise known as a green manufacturing zone,” Trezise said.

The city does not own the property. About three months ago, stagnant GM manufacturing properties were transferred to a trust fund called RACER Trust — Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response — Trezise said.

“RACER Trust holds the environmental cleanup monies. Obviously we have been interacting with them on a mutual vision. This EDA grant and other grant opportunities could help,” Trezise said.

Trezise said as part of that vision, the property needs roads, sidewalks and other public amenities.

Trezise said “two international manufacturers” have visited the site “in the past couple months” to explore expanding there but would not discuss specifics.

“We need to get on with redeveloping the park, whether we have prospects or not,” he said.


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