mliveFLINT, MI — Flint Mayor Dayne Walling has been named a finalist in a national challenge for his policy solution for Chevy in the Hole.

Two of the honorary chairs of the NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders) Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced on Wednesday, Nov. 19, the finalists of the group’s New Ideas Challenge. Mayor Dayne Walling was chosen from a competitive field as a finalist for his policy solution, Chevy Commons, a green remediation plan for the Chevy in the Hole brownfield along the Flint River, according to a news release from the City of Flint.

Walling’s plan would convert the former industrial site into an open community space with grassland, wetland, woodland and other natural environmental features that will attract resident and visitors for recreational activities while simultaneously cleaning the soil over time, according to the release. “It is an honor for our work in Flint at the new Chevy Commons site to be recognized by a forward-looking national network,” Walling said in a statement. “I want to give credit to our team and partners, who are all working hard to transform Flint and this project is a great example of our creative and inclusive approach.”

Walling was chosen as one of 16 finalists out of a total of 60 applicants. A winner in each of four categories — growing the economy for the future, expanding opportunity for all, making government work better, and best public private partnership — will be announced on Dec. 3, in Washington, D.C., according to the release.

The city partnered with the Genesee County Land Bank who provided needed assistance on the Chevy Commons project.

“The Genesee County Land Bank has worked with Mayor Walling and his team on the Chevy Commons project for several years,” said Doug Weilland, Executive Director of the Genesee County Land Bank in a statement. “We are proud of the fact that after many years there is now a plan in place to return this Brownfield property to productive use as green space and trail-ways for the enjoyment of the community. Its strategic location between Kettering University and downtown Flint makes this project even more important.”

Walling is a member of the NewDEAL, which is a network of pro-growth progressive state and local elected officials who are working to expand opportunity in the changing economy, according to the release. The Chevy Commons project is funded by a $1.6 million grant front the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the first phase of renovations – which will involve dumping dirt over the concrete and installing a parking area, walking paths and shrubs in about a third of the space.

A second grant of $1.9 million was awarded to the Genesee County Land Bank in September for the Chevy Commons for the second phase of plans for transforming the former General Motors property to a massive public park with walking paths. Phase two of the work involves the development of a Genesee Valley Trail extension through the site, including building connections to regional trail systems, enhancing Flint River views, improving access to the river for fishing and creating “flexible spaces for community use.”

mliveFLINT, MI — The city will use a new $1.9-million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the old General Motors’ Chevy in the Hole site and redevelop it into Chevy Commons, a massive park with nature trails and fishing spots. Mayor Dayne Walling announced the funding during a groundbreaking today, Sept. 26, for Oak Street Senior Apartments, using the new award as an example of the potential for more federal help here because of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program that Flint was selected for in January.

Strong Cities is a federal program that targets financially distressed cities, providing them with technical advice and expertise from the federal government. “These new funds will expand the area we can cover with trees and walking paths. We are making the right connections” to secure assistance through the Strong Cities program, Walling said. The Chevy Commons grant has actually been awarded to the Genesee County Land Bank, said federal officials at today’s ceremony. It will allow for work on the second phase of plans for transforming the former General Motors property to a massive public park with walking paths, called Chevy Commons.

Phase two of the work involves the development of a Genesee Valley Trail extension through the site, including building connections to regional trail systems, enhancing Flint River views, improving access to the river for fishing and creating “flexible spaces for community use,” according to the development plan. “A potential bridge will link Chevy Commons with Carriage Town and provide an ideal place for fishing in the Flint River,” the plan says. “A stretch of native plants and shrubs along the river provides an attractive natural area and visual connection across the Flint River Trail and to the open recreation areas to the north.”

City and Land Bank officials debuted plans for redeveloping the 60-acre Chevy Commons in April, saying the transformation could result in a destination park that would allow people to walk and bike here from all Flint’s neighborhoods. A $1.6-million grant from EPA is funding the first phase of the work, which includes the addition of soil to cover concrete slabs on the site, installation of a parking area, walking paths and shrubs in about one-third of the space.

Emergency manager Darnell Earley’s office issued a news release today, saying the Flint Strong Cities effort will focus on neighborhood stabilization, public safety and economic development. The Strong Cities team supporting Flint includes representatives from the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Transportation; EPA; Department of Commerce; Department of Energy; U.S. Attorney’s Office; FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Earley’s statement says the leader of the Flint Strong Cities program is a HUD employee who has relocated to Flint and is now embedded full-time in City Hall.

mliveFLINT, MI – The vibrant sound of guitars, keyboard and drums overflowed Sunday, Aug. 10 out of Riverbank Park in downtown Flint, moving passersby and enthusiastic fans attending the last day of the annual Flint Jazz Festival. For 33 years, the festival presented by the Greater Flint Arts Council has filled the streets of downtown Flint with the smooth and funky sounds of modern and classic jazz.

The three-day festival is held in the park every August and brings in local and national jazz talent to bring out the joy and fun in downtown Flint. Many of the attendees, such as Flint resident Lawrence Ratliff, have been coming to the jazz festival since its first notes rang out. “I was introduced to jazz at a young age and have always had a love for it,” said Ratliff, as he waited for the first act to take the stage. “The festival is different compared to the early days. There were a lot more people attending back then.”

While many jazz lovers arrived early to set up their lawn chairs at prime seating spots along the riverfront, only around 100 people were at the festival when it started. As the jazz flowed, more people began to show up and find a spot to enjoy the music with friends and family. “I use to come out as a vendor and sell African clothes, but now I come out to enjoy the festival,” said Flint resident Reginald Terrell. “The jazz festival is a great thing for the city. It helps bring out the true spirit of Flint.”

The opening act, Flint based jazz band Smooth Operations, took to the stage in the early afternoon, playing their funky blend of Detroit and Chicago jazz. Lead vocalist Bernard Jackson appealed to the crowd as the band warmed up, stating his shared troubles being a Flint resident. “We’re in this together,” he said. “They raised my water bill just like they raised yours.” Being the first act was not without technical difficulties. A wiring issue hampered band guitarist Herb McGown’s first solo of the show.

By the next song, the issue was resolved and McGown nailed an amazing solo riff that dazzled the audience. Following The Smooth Operations, Greg Williams took the stage, followed by the People’s Jazz Band with headliner and three-time Grammy award winning jazz bassist Christen McBride set to take the stage around 7 p.m.

Admission to the festival is $3.

mliveFLINT, MI–With a sunnier forecast than expected on Saturday afternoon, Genesee County residents boarded their watercrafts to participate in the Flint River Flotilla.

Genesee County residents brought their canoes, kayaks, rafts, inner tubes, inflatable islands and more to the Flint River, getting into the water by the firehouse at N. Grand Traverse and Kearsley. They floated down the river until they arrived by the Mott Park Golf Course across from McLaren Hospital. From there, they could enjoy food and music and more or head home for the day.

Rebecca Fedewa, executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition and vice chair of the Flint River Corridor Alliance, said the alliance used to host a yearly triathlon in that same stretch of the river. After seeing how the athletic factor intimidated some, they decided to host a flotilla to be more inclusive to a wider range of people. “This is an event where you don’t need any special skills. All you need to be able to do is float in a tube,” Fedewa said. “It would be fun, easy, and accessible to people.”

Fedewa said that the Flint River has an unfairly bad reputation, but that it’s a strong resource for Genesee County residents. “It’s a great recreational amenity that flows right through our downtown and people are afraid of it,” she said. “We want to show people that they can get on the river and have a good time, and that it’s accessible and safe.” Fedewa estimated that nearly 100 people participated in the Flotilla, with 71 floating devices being in the water. Organizers thought that a bad weather forecast may have dissuaded some people from participating, even though the weather ended up being fine. Nearly 40 volunteers helped run the event.

“We’re doing it again next year, and we hope to have double the crowd next year,” Fedewa said. Flint resident Joseph Chambers came to the event with his brother, his sister-in-law, and some friends. As a group, they had a canoe, two kayaks, and a rubber raft. He said they try to get out on the water every other week, usually visiting Mott Lake, the Genesee Bell, and the Flint River from Irish Road down to Genesee Road.

“In Genesee County, especially when you’re outside of the cement park, it looks just like up north, and it’s right there,” Chambers said. “It takes us ten minutes to get to the water, and once you’re a little paddled down the way, you don’t see civilization. It’s just nature and trees.

mliveFLINT, 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.”

mliveFLINT, MI — If the Hamilton Dam on the Flint River fails, the water could flood downtown Flint, inundate Chevy in the Hole and damage wide parts of the city, officials worry. If there were an extreme rainfall and the dam were to fail, water could flood up into downtown and cover both sides of Saginaw Street, says David Lossing, co-chair of the Hamilton Dam Committee. The group recently reconvened after about a year and a half hiatus, Lossing said, to revisit the viability of getting a dam replacement back on the table.

It’s hard to say how badly Flint would flood if the dam failed, he said. “Only Mother Nature would know how much water she’s going to drop in behind the dam,” Lossing said. The dam for years has received the lowest ranking possible in state inspection reports. It is considered a “high hazard dam,” which means there’s a chance of fatalities and serious damage to local infrastructure.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality considers the dam “unsatisfactory” and in need of immediate action. The dam hasn’t gotten the repairs it needs and plans to fix it have gone nowhere. Steve Montle, Flint’s former Green Cities coordinator, said he doesn’t know exactly what will happen if the city-owned dam fails. But he knows it wouldn’t be pretty. “The dam has been a high hazard for a long time,” Montle said. “It’s not going to improve on its own. It needs to be fixed.”

The dam was built in 1920 and is about 400 feet upstream of the Harrison Street bridge, adjacent to the University of Michigan-Flint campus. “Designed by Fargo Engineering Company of Jackson, Michigan, and built in 1920, the dam is a 218 feet long concrete gravity dam that features a total of six spillways,” according to a 2010 report, “Flint Riverfront Restoration Plan,” from civil engineering firm Wade Trim According to state inspectors, three of those spillways no longer work.

“That’s not good,” said UM-Flint student Jazelle Walker, 17. “Especially considering how they’re trying to rebuild buildings and make everything around campus look better. They need to get that fixed.” Walker said she walks by the dam regularly on her way to class and often wondered about its condition. Michael Abbasspaur studies music at UM-Flint. He sits at a bench downriver from the dam to read or play guitar. “It does look pretty old and decrepit,” the 19-year-old student said. “It definitely wouldn’t be any good for the city to have a flooded river.”

The dam was built to head off flooding of then-new manufacturing sites that were built in the Flint River floodplain. For example, the Chevy in the Hole site would routinely flood before the dam was built. A plan to replace the dam with a new “rock rapids” design gained some attention in 2010, but finding funding for the multimillion-dollar project was an obstacle, officials said at the time. The dam is so old that trying to repair it would only be a short-term fix, Lossing said.

Previous predictions for the rock rapids project estimated it would cost $4 million to $6 million. However, Lossing said, those numbers are a few years old now, so it’s hard to say how much the project would cost today. “The dam is literally falling into the river,” Lossing said. “There are chunks of concrete falling into the river. … You could probably do patchwork, but it’s not the same thing.” Officials were making progress a few years ago, moving toward a request for bids for a rock rapids project. Then the city went into emergency management, the overall economy took a nosedive and federal earmark money dried up. The dam is owned by the city. Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said recommendations for replacing the dam will be included in an upcoming capitol improvement plan.

mliveFLINT, MI — The news that General Motors has purchased a historic Flint building that served as the automaker’s birthplace has gotten attention across the country. Officials announced July 23 that the company has finalized the purchase of the historic Durant-Dort Carriage Co. Factory One, though they are not disclosing the purchase price. GM’s North America President Mark Reuss first announced the company’s intentions to buy the building on May 1 in Flint.

Future plans for the building are still in the works and the company hasn’t said what its intentions for the site are. But initial plans include repairing the roof and walls and making structural improvements throughout the 25,000-square-foot building. Work on the facility is expected to start in late 2013.

Here’s a look at recent headlines on the purchase.

Sacramento Bee: GM finalizes ‘Factory One’ purchase in Flint

Miami Herald:
GM finalizes ‘Factory One’ purchase in Flint

The Detroit News:
Historic factory in Flint bought by General Motors

Lansing State Journal:
GM finalizes ‘Factory One’ purchase in Flint

Businessweek: GM is buying ‘Factory One’ facility in Flint

The Wichita Eagle: GM finalizes ‘Factory One’ purchase in Flint The Associated Press

mliveFLINT, MI – General Motors backed up its promise on a continued investment into the city of Flint Wednesday, May 1, when GM North America President Mark Reuss signed an agreement to purchase “Factory One,” the original Durant-Dort Carriage Co. factory located on Water Street in Flint. Reuss called the 133-year-old, 25,000-square-foot historic building – which was the original factory for the carriages – the birthplace of GM.

“Flint is strong and it’s vital to the growth of GM. When Factory One is reborn, it’s going to be great and it’s going to be something we can all be proud of – GM and Flint,” Reuss said. In addition to the pending purchase of Factory One, GM will also become the curator of the Durant-Dort office building located across the street from the factory. The Flint Historical Foundation currently maintains the office building, but it costs about $20,000-$25,000 to heat and cool the facility and another $20,000-$25,000 to do other building repairs. Reuss said GM will now pay for the annual upkeep and repairs costs for the facility.

“We’re going to make that area a really special area. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do yet, but our initial thought is that in the office building, we’d make that a nice little museum with the original board room, Durant’s desk and all those things in it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of really beautiful, historic GMC and Buicks in the company that don’t get shown a lot of justice. One of the thoughts is that we’d convert Factory One for (historic vehicles to be shown) and we could launch vehicles like the trucks that are made here in Flint. It’s could be really, really beautiful.”

Reuss said that the deal to purchase the building actually took place in the original board room of the Carriage Co. office building. He said he saw the commercial real estate sign in front of the Factory One building while he was visiting the office building across the street. Almost immediately thereafter, Reuss and his team began researching past offers made on the building and what it would take for General Motors to regain possession of the property. GM North America President Mark Reuss announces purchase of Factory One in Flint, birthplace of GM GM North America President Mark Reuss announces purchase of Factory One in Flint, birthplace of GM.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said that the move by Reuss and GM to invest in this way in the city of Flint shows its rededication to the area. “For anyone who doubts General Motors’ commitment to Flint, look no further than the announcement that the original Carriage office building and the original Carriage factory building are going back into General Motors hands,” Walling said. “It’s going to be great to have this asset right on the edge of downtown, right on the edge of the Flint River in the hands of General Motors. That’ll make it a real special attraction.

Walling said that he doesn’t know what GM plans to make of the property, but he would like it to showcase the historical relevance of the city and of the roots of the auto industry in Flint. “It needs to be a place that honors the history of the men and women that led the company, who worked on the carriages and then the cars and, in turn, made General Motors into the largest corporation the world had ever seen in the 20th century,” said Walling. “That part of the city has always been meaningful to me because when you’re on that part of Water Street, you feel like you’re at the crossroads of the city’s past, present and now its future.”

Reuss, who began his career with General Motors at in 1983 at Flint’s Great Lakes Technology Center, said that he wants to continue to grow the company’s relationship with the city of Flint and this is a big step in the process. “I’m really excited. I started my career here in Flint and there have been a lot of hard times and tough things, and now we’ve just got to move on” he said. “We get a little success and we start doing things that we used to do here, and being a part of this community is a good thing.” The news of the pending purchase comes on the heels of GM’s announcement that it would invest $215 million into the Flint Engine Operations as part of $331.8 million in improvements at four of its manufacturing facilities. The move saved nearly 1,000 Flint jobs.

A month prior, however, the company announced its third round of layoffs in as many months, as Flint Engine operations laid off more than 100 workers by eliminating its third shift. That was coupled with the Grand Blanc Weld Tool plant’s Jan. 17 announcement of its closing, displacing 287 employees, and Flint East’s Feb. 5 announcement that 343 employees would be laid off. Steve Dawes, assistant director for the UAW Region 1-C, said that the investment bodes well for the image of GM in the region. Dawes said that Reuss’ passion for the project was apparent and infectious.

“He couldn’t say exactly what the plans were, but he was very excited and I could feel that excitement. GM coming forward with this commitment is going to be something to watch,” Dawes said. “Whenever you have a company like General Motors willing to invest outside of the actual factory or the building of the engine or the stamping plant, or what have you, it’s great news.” Dawes also touched on the possibility of Flint and GM returning to their respective glory days when both entities were used as standards for developing cities and businesses across the world.

“You look back to the 1950s when Flint had the highest percentage of home ownership and was the richest city in the entire country – it shows what we’re capable of in Flint and Genesee County,” Dawes said. “I think it would be great if (Factory One) was turned into another factory that produced 1,000 jobs, and it’d be great if it was something other than that like a museum. No matter what, it’s going to create work – some kind of jobs – and it’s going to create some kind of revenue for the city.” Reuss did not disclose the purchase price of the properties, but said that it was a fair price for the seller of the building, especially accounting for its historical value. He also said that it’s too early to project a timeline for the completion of the site’s

mliveFLINT, MI — More than 1,000 trees have been planted on a 60-acre portion of the former Chevy in the Hole site as part of a cleanup effort that will help transform it from a concrete wasteland to a greener space along the Flint River.

The project was highlighted this afternoon for Arbor Day, and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and local leaders toured the site as project workers continued planting saplings.

Rows of young trees and irrigation trenches now line the portions not covered by concrete. (Document shows tree planting: ChevyintheHoletrees.pdf )

The variety of trees — including eastern cottonwood, sugar maple and red oak — are expected to help with the natural breakdown of contaminants at the former industrial site, which holds a prominent place on the Flint River between Kettering University and downtown Flint.

“The way the city and the mayor (Dayne Walling) have envisioned this is a green space to remove this scar on the community,” said project manager Steve Montle.

The work is funded by a $375,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA funds and overseen by Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.

The trees are expected to mitigate the pollutants present in the soil and groundwater through a process called “phytoremediation,” in which trees take the water from the ground, stabilize or reduce contaminants, and transpire the water as a neutral vapor.

Ownership of the property is in the process of being transferred to the city of Flint. The land is currently owned by the Flint Economic Development Corp., which obtained it for $1 with a quit claim deed from Delphi Corp. in 2008.

“This is a great project,” said City Councilman Sheldon Neeley, who sits on the EDC board. “This is nature cleaning up a man-made mess.”

Montle described the 60-acre portion of the site as being “uniformly contaminated at low levels.” He said the trees will help reduce the flow of polluted groundwater into the Flint River.

Montle was recently recognized by the White House for his work on the project.

He began working on the cleanup as an appointee under Walling’s administration but was hired by the national revitalization group, Center for Community Progress, after the city position was cut by Flint’s emergency manager in December.

Montle was honored Tuesday with the White House’s Champions of Change award for “leaders who are using innovative approaches to promote energy efficiency, revitalize outdoor spaces, encourage transportation options and improve quality of life in our cities and towns,” according to a news release from the Center for Community Progress.

He said at least two more phases, include a wetland, are planned for the project if it can secure additional funding.

“The hurdles have been reduced from barely being able to get over them to so small we can barely see them anymore,” he said.