FLINT, MI – Spray-painted walls, a crumbling facade and broken windows exposed to the elements make up much of the hulking, dilapidated building on Grand Traverse Street.
Known as the former Burroughs mill, the vacant building just south of the Flint River is now the most recent of four adjacent properties purchased by a well-known developer with intentions of cleaning up blight and continuing economic development in the area. The building, 416 Grand Traverse St., was purchased in January by River City Developments, LLC. The company is registered to Ridgway White, who was recently named president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
White said he’s still deciding the old mill’s future, but his overall goal is to improve the area where Kearsley and Grand Traverse streets meet near the river — a central location between downtown Flint and Kettering University, and just south of Hurley Medical Center. Also in the area are the new Tenacity Brewing and a homeless shelter, My Brother’s Keeper.
“I haven’t figured out what to do with the thing,” White said of the blighted mill. “We either have to tear it down or do something with it because I don’t like it in its current state.” White also was behind the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the Riverfront Residence Hall downtown and the new Powers Catholic High School and Michigan School for the Deaf.
State records show River City was formed in 2006.
Saying the goal is “beautification and economic development,” White has made four land purchases in that Kearsley Street corridor between 2006 and January 2015: the old mill as well as 501 W. Kearsley St., 630 W. Kearsley St. and 712 W. Kearsley St. White said his interest in the area started when he bought the property at 501 W. Keasley St in 2006. While it currently houses Rogers Foam Corp., it was empty at the time.
“At that point in time, I saw an opportunity for a building that had fallen into disarray but didn’t need a ton of work so that I could create a space that could create a meaningful benefit for the city,” he said, adding that Rogers Foam Corp. brought 50 jobs. Of the four properties owned by River City, Rogers Foam Corp. and 1st Source Servall, 712 W. Kearsley St., are the only two locations that currently have a running business on it.
The fourth property is the vacant lot next door to 1st Source Servall, where work crews are currently removing the foundation of an old warehouse. “I purchased it and there is demolishing going on at the old foundation,” he said. White said he wants to clean up it to “celebrate the beauty of the river.”
Scott Lea, branch manager for the 1st Source Servall, an appliance industry parts dealer, said the business is anticipating remaining open.
“That’s the plan, to keep it here,” he said.
Lea said there have been discussions about renovating the store, which has spray paint on the side walls, much to Lea’s chagrin. Though the crews next door removing rubble have been loud, Lea said the changes to the area are exciting. Often, he said, the vacant lot is overgrown in the summer and he’s hoping the cleanup leads to future investments. It was a former Action Auto site, Lea said.
Lea said beautifying the corridor, located just south of the banks of the Flint River, could also mean more usage. He likened it to similar projects along riverbanks in Bay City and Saginaw.
“It’s time Flint does it,” Lea said.
Danette Jenkins, office manager for My Brother’s Keeper, the nearby homeless shelter, said they didn’t realize someone new had purchased parcels of land in the area until construction crews began cleaning up the vacant property between the shelter and 1st Source Servall.
“We saw some machinery coming in to do some development and that brought about some interest in what was going on,” she said. There haven’t been any discussions about River City purchasing the shelter property, Jenkins said. “No one has approached us with any discussions of that nature, not to my knowledge,” she said, adding that they’ve been easy to work with.
A garden outside of My Brother’s Keeper falls partially on land owned by River City, Jenkins said. After the two parties talked it over, River City allowed the garden to remain. “We look forward to working with any of the property owners,” Jenkins said. “We just want to make sure that the shelter guests are able to maintain the garden.”
The City of Flint faces serious challenges related to its high number of abandoned properties and vacant lots. These empty patches in the landscape pose safety risks, decrease the city’s visual quality, and often contribute to environmental contamination.
One of the most problematic vacant lots, a 130-acre property known in Flint as “Chevy in the Hole,” was a key center of manufacturing for General Motors for most of the past century. Adjacent to downtown and surrounded by residential neighborhoods, redevelopment of this riverfront property will play a key role in Flint’s recovery.
In this planning document, the Flint Futures group from the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan presents two scenarios for redevelopment of Chevy in the Hole, each responding to a different series of plausible assumptions about residual contamination and Flint’s future growth. Both scenarios are based on the stated preferences of Flint’s residents and business owners.
The Flint River District will become a vibrant, mixed-use urban area containing stable, diverse and safe residential neighborhoods, successful research and development businesses, and new eighborhood-scale retail uses, all centered around an interconnected network of riverfront parks and natural open spaces. The vision for the District builds on three major framework elements:
- Reclaiming the Flint River to create an attractive and inviting open space feature at the center of the District that is integrated with the regional open space network
- Transforming Third Avenue into a new University Boulevard with a strong visual identity that gives prominence to adjacent institutions, and encourages new investment in surrounding neighborhoods.
- Implementing several strategic development initiatives that will build on these two framework elements.
Visitors to the Grand Traverse area will be happy to discover that the area’s two main rail-trails are connected, a 26 mile trip from Acme to Suttons Bay, combining an enjoyable urban experience with a leisurely ride through the woods.
The 11-mile long TART Trail is a paved urban transportation corridor that offers easy accessibility to the Grand Traverse Bay, downtown Traverse City, neighborhoods, parks, beaches, hotels, restaurants, shopping, marinas, bike shops, miniature golf, museums and the zoo. The trail is a favorite of families, visitors, bicyclists, runners, walkers, in-line skaters and commuters.
Stretching over 15 miles through Leelanau County, the Leelanau Trail connects Traverse City and Suttons Bay. The trail creates the perfect setting for both recreation and environmental education through a route that bends through rolling hills, lush forests, picturesque orchards, peaceful meadows, and an aquatic medley of streams, lakes and ponds.
The Flint River Corridor Alliance would like to thank the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and the Ruth Mott Foundation for their generous support in making this report possible. We would also like to thank all of the neighborhood and community groups that participated in the survey and have been involved in the group. Also, thank you to all the organizations that have been working in and with the Alliance.
FLINT, MI –The transformation of the abandoned industrial brownfield in the middle of Flint called Chevy in the Hole into walkable greenspace is about to begin. The Genesee County Land Bank and city of Flint, which owns the site, have a plan to turn Chevy in the Hole into Chevy Commons, a parkland along the Flint River with wetlands, woodlands, grasslands and other green areas.
The first phase of that plan will break ground in late summer or early fall, said Christina Kelly, who is directing the work for the Genesee County Land Bank. A $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency paid for a draft plan to transform the site, with the majority of the money going toward the upcoming construction, Kelly said. Mayor Dayne Walling said he’s excited to see the project move forward. He said the plan meets the expectations that city officials heard from residents when updating Flint’s master plan in 2013. He said the plan for Chevy in the Hole calls for access to the Flint River, recreational space, an area for events and recognizing the history of the site’s automotive and Native American heritage.
“I’m excited to see the progress on the site and excited to see a comprehensive site design that shows how all the pieces fit together to make an interesting, natural space right in the heart of the city,” he said. Kelly said that for years, ideas on what to do with the site have been tossed around by different organizations throughout the city, including the land bank. “Now, we’re finally hitting the ground running. We have some money, we need to spend it,” she said. The $1.6 million will go toward the first phase of the project, which Walling said will take up space by Chevrolet Avenue, which intersects the west end of the site, and run along Glenwood Avenue, which borders the southern side of the west end.
“A portion will be available and open to the public in 2015,” Walling said. That first phase will include a parking area, walking paths, and shrubs, Kelly said. The city and land bank will take public comments on the plan to transform Chevy in the Hole into Chevy Commons in a public meeting Thursday, April 10, Walling said. “Now it’s time for the public to give input and respond to the initial design concept,” Walling said. “The expectation is that the community will respond positively to the design because it incorporates all of the elements that we have heard (from the community).”
Kelly said that the land bank is working on getting a $1.2 million grant for phase 2, which will develop more space east of Chevrolet. After that, it’s a matter of securing the funding. “It’s going to take a couple of years to secure the additional funding and do the work, but a portion of the site will be greened and open to the public next year,” Walling said. That greening process includes dumping dirt over the existing concrete that covers the approximate 60-acre space in what Kelly called a “landscape cap.”
Tim Monahan, former president of the Carriage Town Historic Neighborhood Association and resident of Carriage Town, the neighborhood that sits just across the Flint River from Chevy in the Hole, said he’s looking forward to seeing something done. “I am so looking forward to it. It’s so disgusting for people coming in off the expressway to get to Kettering, The Children’s Museum or Carraige Town,” he said. That’s a horrible first impression. What do you see,? Trash. … This has been a long time coming.”
The site has been no stranger to change, though this will mark the first time in almost two centuries that it hasn’t been a part of some type of commerce or manufacturing, according to Genesee County Historical Society President Dave White. He said the site was a sawmill and paper mill before it became the home of Flint Wagon Works in the 1880s, the first incorporated business in Michigan. General Motors’ first engine was built on that ground and at one point there were 14,000 employees who worked there. Then it fell into disrepair, with the last building torn down in 2004, White said.
“It showcases how times have changed. We don’t put industry on the river anymore. We prefer to be on the river and use it for enjoyment,” he said. “This is a great thing for Flint, for us to take back the river and enjoy it’s beauty.”