FLINT, MI — There’s no question the city of Flint is struggling with the Flint River as a water source, but we have to commend the local collaborative effort to embrace the river for recreation and economic development opportunities.
The Flint River is an integral part of Flint’s heritage, and it’s past time that the riverbank becomes a showpiece in the city’s comeback story. We urge city leaders to capitalize on the momentum of recent river developments and actively seek out the means to fund further improvements, such as replacing or repairing the dilapidated Hamilton Dam and naturalizing the river where it’s overwhelmed by concrete.
The opportunity to expand and develop an attractive urban center is dependent on the health of the river corridor, a thread that boasts two universities and travels through prime real estate in the city’s core.
We hope it’s a sign of positive things to come that four properties near the river and Grand Traverse Street have been purchased by a private developer with the goal of beautification and economic development. And, it’s encouraging to see progress in other areas along the riverbank, including the transformation of the blighted Chevy in the Hole wasteland into a green space to be called Chevy Commons.
Suggestions for improving the riverbank shouldn’t be dismissed over present financial concerns.
Downtown, work will be starting this spring and summer with a $300,000 grant that will fund improvements to Riverbank Park. Positive change can’t happen without first having vision. With powerbrokers like Kettering University, the Genesee County Land Bank and a coalition of river advocates behind some of the various redevelopment efforts, Flint has a good shot at making these dreams a reality.
A Flint River transformation is certainly not a novel idea. In 2005, a planning firm developed a “Flint River District Strategy” that depicted a campus town near Kettering, complete with research parks, a green riverbank and student housing.
At the time, critics said the idea was too costly. But suggestions for improving the riverbank shouldn’t be dismissed over present financial concerns. This is about setting goals for the future and working toward them. In 20, 30 or 40 years — because of the foresight of community leaders — we hope visitors will be able to enjoy a new Flint River transformed for the better.
FLINT, MI — Kettering University officials’ vision for the campus and community is all about growth, development and moving toward a collaborative environment.
Building on what Kettering has already begun to establish over the past few years, the university’s focus on future development doesn’t just benefit students, but the entire community. “We’re invested. We’re planning expansions and growth into the community,” said Kettering University President Robert McMahan. “We are part of the community. The success of Flint is our success.” Looking at the newly released 10-year Kettering master plan, the university’s wish list includes new buildings, green space, community opportunities, learning opportunities, creative space on campus and a connection to downtown Flint’s positive momentum.
Founded in 1919 as the School of Automobile Trades, the university has gone through a lot of change and growth in the past century. McMahan has been with the university since 2011 and has focused on cleaning up blight around the campus and the University Avenue corridor, as well as bringing new educational opportunities for the students and the community.The master plan is one more step with that mindset. The creation of the master plan was more than a year in the making to ensure it fit the concept of the university and its outreach and served the students as technology and learning advances.
See a breakdown of Kettering’s master plan here.
University leaders wanted social spaces where the campus could come together as a community and collaborate. The first project on the list is a new building to act as the Learning Commons. It’s what McMahan referred as a hybrid building, where a mixed use of spaces will be in one facility. The Learning Commons, set to be built west of Kettering’s campus center, will form a “quad” with the rec center, Campus Center and residence hall. The building will be a modern, multi-use academic student life building with open spaces, food service and a new, modern library.
It will have open spaces and a lot of natural light. It will include space for academic classrooms, public art and design and collaborative space. “It becomes a very engaging space that people want to be at,” McMahan said. The Learning Commons would also connect with the campus center by means of an enclosed walkway. But it’s more than a walkway. That space will be interactive with art and usable rooms.
A project such as the Learning Commons could cost anywhere from $40 million to $60 million, McMahan said. As a fundraising campaign is already underway, McMahan hopes to break ground on the project within three years and have a ribbon cutting by 2019. That’s just the beginning of what Kettering officials have envisioned. Future phases include new dorms to replace Thompson Hall, which was built in 1969.
The new dorms will feature open, collaborative spaces that mirror what will be available in academic spaces on campus. Green space, athletic fields and outdoor recreation areas will be added. After that, a set of academic buildings will be created with the same open, collaborative mindset as the rest of the master plan. The academic building corridor will move across Chevrolet Avenue connecting both sides with an enclosed bridge, which will also be an active space with classrooms and other usable space.
“Kettering University’s master plan is highly ambitious, but very appropriate for the opportunities that the campus and the surrounding community have here in the 21st century,” said Flint Mayor Dayne Walling. “Universities have recognized that they thrive and offer a higher-quality experience to their students, faculty and staff when they’re in vibrant, mixed-used environments. So it’s great to see Kettering University embracing that and being prepared to work with a wider community.”
All phases of the master plan include pedestrian corridors that flow toward the downtown area. The master plan shows safe, walkable pathways move throughout the campus, across Chevrolet Avenue, down University Avenue, past Atwood Stadium, connecting Kettering University to downtown and resources such as University of Michigan. It builds off what Kettering has already invested in the community. Since Kettering McMahan arrived on campus in 2011, the university has purchased more than 100 properties, many of them abandoned and blighted.
Many properties have been razed and turned into green space.
Previously, Kettering acquired a property on the southeast corner of University Avenue and Grand Traverse Street and razed the abandoned building, turning the property into green space. Last year, Carriage Town Ministries transformed a vacant lot on the northeast corner of University and Grand Traverse into a park. When McMahan took over, he instantly began thinking about how the private university could impact the Flint community.
Before coming to Kettering, McMahan had started a technology company that grew global, served as senior science and technology adviser to North Carolina’s governor and was a top strategist for a private venture capital organization funded by the CIA. In North Carolina, McMahan had to understand how universities can impact a community, especially when it came to technology and engineering. And that fit in perfectly with what could be done here in Flint.
Fixing up and maintaining the historic Atwood Stadium is part of the overall community vision of the university as well, McMahan said. “We are very intimately tied to the community. Our history is a shared history. Our legacy is a shared legacy,” McMahan said. “This is a city that has reinvented itself several times over the course of history. … We are delighted to be a part of it.”
University of Michigan-Flint Chancellor Susan Borrego said she believes the new Kettering master plan will be beneficial to the revitalization of the community. “I think anything we can do that makes that bridge more areas downtown, that encourages people downtown is wonderful,” Borrego said. “It’s exciting. We’re still all new enough that we’re getting our hands around where our organizations can partner.
“We all share the commitment. We share the commitment to downtown, but larger than that we share the commitment to Flint.” UM-Flint is also taking a fresh look at its strategic planning to see how it can engage more in the community and along University Avenue corridor. It’s not just about revitalization and beautification, but also about providing space for the community to learn in a higher education environment.
At Kettering, when space in the current Academic Building opens up as some programs move into the Learning Commons, that space will be converted into community and pre-college spaces. The space will give pre-college students and under-served students access to a leading STEM institution and labs at young ages by adding partnership opportunities with schools and organizations. That has already begun with the creation of the FIRST Robotics Community Center, but McMahan said it will expand past that.
Reaching out to students at an early age, such as sixth or seventh grade or sooner, can make a major impact in school and career choices, he said. There will also be performance space and an auditorium to offer more services to the community. “It’s important because as a higher education institution, I believe very strongly that we have an obligation to engage,” McMahan said. “And we’re all members of this community. Faculty, staff are members of this community. … What Kettering does matters. What the other higher education institutions do, matters.
“No one entity on its own can fix everything. But working together, we can fix everything.” It’s not just about seeing Kettering grow. It’s about doing their part to help see Flint comeback and be successful. Walling said Kettering’s vision will continue to bring growth in the community.
“The new Kettering University vision and master plan will greatly benefit the wider community through increased economic development, greater housing options and better-maintained open space through the entire University Avenue corridor,” Walling said. “I was extremely impressed by the creativity of the plan and how it uses the university’s position on University Avenue and along the Flint River. The plan redefines what the University Avenue and Flint River corridor can be in the 21st century.”
Kettering and UM-Flint are also involved in a $1 million grant that will help fight crime along University Avenue corridor. Other projects are taking place to match Kettering’s effort in buying up blighted projects. Most recently, the spray-painted, crumbling building formerly known as the Burroughs mill was purchased, along with four adjacent properties just south of the Flint River along Grand Traverse Street. In the end, the universities have a responsibility to the community, McMahan said. The Kettering master plan reflects the potential of the university and the community.
“I came to understand very strongly and deeply the power of the universities to help reshape the communities. It’s a win-win for both the community and the university. And it’s a team effort with all four higher education institutions,” McMahan said. “It’s an investment and recognition of the potential of the institution. … The wonderful thing about this community is so many people are investing.”
FLINT, MI — The recent purchase of property near the Flint River is just the latest in an ongoing series of potential redevelopment opportunities along the city’s riverfront.
And among Kettering University’s master plan, the planned transformation at Chevy in the Hole and other plans, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said major changes are expected in the area over the next decade or so. “The University Avenue and Flint River Corridor is going to see more dramatic change in the next couple years than anywhere else in the city,” Walling said. Rebecca Fedewa, executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition, said the work that’s being done now is the results of a decade of work by members of the Flint River Corridor Alliance and city officials.
“We see the river as a tremendous asset to our city,” she said. “Our backs have essentially been turned to the river for a while now.” The city’s vision for the riverfront, Walling said, includes mixed use facilities and properties for new businesses, housing and green spaces, as well as beautification and restoration. “The river is becoming a real draw because of what the corridor can offer as far as quality of life for residents and also an interesting environment for new small businesses,” he said. “There is also a large number of underutilized buildings and properties along the river left over from the former factories, parking lots, bars and businesses that depended on factory workers years ago.”
Already the intersection of Grand Traverse and Kearsley Streets, just south of the Flint River, has seen Tenacity Brewing recently open its doors. Three other nearby properties were recently purchased by River City Developments, a company owned by Ridgway White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
White said development along the Flint River is crucial for the city’s future. In addition to the properties he purchased in the last year, White had also purchased one property 10 years ago. In 2006, he bought 501 W. Kearsley St., which sat empty at the time. Soon after, Rogers Foam was brought into the property, bringing 50 jobs. “I’ve had a long-term interest in the Flint River,” White said. “I’ve always felt it’s a long-term, positive benefit.”
Walling said city officials are looking at options for federal, state and private funding for the Hamilton Dam, for which the first phase would cost an estimated $3 million. “This is an urgent priority in the adopted capital improvement plan and the city has pledged the first million to the project based on the emergency need,” he said. The first phase would “maintain the water impoundment upstream of the dam with a naturalized design that would then have a series of smaller cascades going downstream.”
Naturalizing the river
In order to fully naturalize the river to allow boats and fish to travel upstream and downstream, Walling said it would cost more than $50 million. “Naturalizing would require a major federal investment,” he said. “It’s not feasible in the current fiscal and partisan atmosphere in Washington.” However, in the future, Walling did say the city may look at naturalizing specific items rather than do the whole project at once. “We could look at naturalizing elements of the river at a lower cost in the future,” he said.
The first phase of a multi-year, three phase project is beginning this spring and summer at Riverbank Park. Flint Downtown Development Authority Director Gerard Burnash said the first phase is budgeted at $300,000, with money coming from the Michigan DNR Trust Fund grant. The first phase will include several changes, including softening some of the hard concrete areas and filling in the channel on the north side of the park. “The DEQ mandated it has to be at this level because of the state of the Hamilton Dam,” Burnash said.
The second phase would include infrastructure improvements, including electrical and lighting, but funding is still being figured out to develop the timeframe on that, Burnash said. Meanwhile, the third phase would just include wrapping up the project, he said. The timeline for completion isn’t set. “It’s kind of a dynamic work in progress,” he said.
In Kettering’s 10-year master plan, released on Feb. 12, the university shows a vision to connect to the Flint community and downtown. This means green spaces, including connections to Chevy Commons and Flint River trails. There are also plans to connect campus buildings, including an enclosed bridge over Chevrolet Avenue, that pay homage to the bridge that used to exist at the Chevrolet Complex.
Chevy in the Hole
Meanwhile, the longtime major eyesore and former General Motors industrial site will become Chevy Commons, a natural park along the Flint River which is expected to include wetlands, woodlands, grasslands and other green areas. The Genesee County Land Bank and city of Flint, which owns the site, came together to put a plan together for the site, which served as the backdrop for the Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37 and now holds a prominent place on the riverfront between downtown Flint and Kettering University.
A $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency paid for a draft plan, with the majority of the money going toward the upcoming construction. Before that, thousands of trees had been planted on the site to help naturally remove contaminants from the area.
“The demographic changes and housing market dynamics are driving more people into the core of the city and there’s going to be an expansion of development around downtown into the adjacent area,” Walling said. “The Flint River corridor is the first place where the environment is right for that to happen.” With River City purchasing several properties along Grand Traverse and Kearsley streets and Kettering expanding its push for downtown, White said the city’s master plan will match perfectly to help downtown.
“It’s a natural expansion area that could occur over time,” he said.
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.