GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Trinity Health Saint Mary’s wants to construct a nine-story building containing housing, retail space, a grocery store, and offices for community service providers on what’s now 10 parking lots across from its hospital on Jefferson Avenue SE.
The building, part of what Saint Mary’s is calling the Heartside Health District Revitalization, would also include 1,000 parking spaces, according to a description of the project.
A portion of the proposed building’s 200 housing units would be reserved for low- to moderate-income residents.
The project was outlined by Saint Mary’s in its request to Kent County for $19 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the project. It’s among more than 300 funding requests from an array of nonprofits and other organizations seeking a share of the county’s $127.6 million in ARPA funds.
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In total, the project is expected to cost between $151 million and $197 million, according to Saint Mary’s. The building would be connected to Saint Mary’s by a bridge over Jefferson Avenue.
Kurt MacDonald, senior vice president of operations at Trinity Health Saint Mary’s, submitted the ARPA funding request to the county.
He was unavailable for an interview, said Amy Rotter, senior communications specialist at Trinity Health Saint Mary’s.
“We are still early in the process of developing a vision for the district with our neighbors and partners, and have no details to share at this time,” according to a statement from the hospital.
In addition to seeking ARPA funds, other funding sources for the project are also being explored, including the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, philanthropy, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Missing Middle Housing Program, the project’s description says.
The project received a letter of support from Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, as well as Vanessa Greene, CEO of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, a partner of Trinity Health Saint Mary’s.
“Their proposal excites me because it can dramatically transform a neighborhood with affordable housing, access to healthy food, space for small businesses and community organizations, and more attractive green spaces,” Greene said in a letter to Kent County Board of Commissioners.
Greene noted in her letter that she learned about the building in a conversation with Saint Mary’s about her organization’s need for space and the possibility of space being available on or near the hospital’s campus.
The Kent County Board of Commissioners is currently in the process of deciding what community projects should receive a share of the ARPA funds.
The board is expected to finalize its allocations at a special meeting on Monday, Nov. 14. Initial feedback from the board on the different proposals indicated 13 of 18 commissioners ranked the Trinity Health Saint Mary’s proposal as a “low priority.”
In addition, a consultant that evaluated the ARPA requests submitted to the county noted there were concerns about the Saint Mary’s project. Those included that the project lacked guaranteed funding after 2026, and whether it could me a completion target of 2026.
The 10-parking lots where the nine-story building would be constructed are currently owned by Saint Mary’s, according to the ARPA funding request.
Plans for the project include 39,000 square feet of retail space for uses such as a café, childcare, massage therapy, gift shop or a bakery. The goal is also to have a grocery store as an anchor tenant in the building.
It would also have four floors containing 200 apartments, followed by four floors with office space for community service providers. Those community services would be recommended by residents and community leaders but could include areas such as education and job placement assistance.
One resident said he liked the idea of adding affordable housing and a grocery store in the neighborhood.
“I’m all for new development that embraces the needs of the neighborhood,” said Daniel Drent, a former Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association board member. “Housing alone, let alone affordable housing, is certainly an issue that’s needed in the Heartside area. There is not enough affordable housing. So anything that could be done for that would be fantastic.”
As far as the idea of including retail, Drent said a grocery store has long been needed in Heartside. He said many residents in the neighborhood, which is home to several of the city’s rescue missions, are low-income and rely on public transportation.
Making a trip to Meijer, Family Fare or Bridge Street Market can be a time consuming, he said.
“It’s more about than just getting a tomato,” Dent said, discussing the need not only for fresh food but other items as well. “It’s also where do I get my toothpaste, where do I get my laundry detergent.”
Saint Mary’s ARPA request says the nine-story building would be the first development in a broader vision being created for the area. That area encompasses four blocks in the Heartside neighborhood bordered by Wealthy, LaGrave, State and Lafayette streets.
Potential future developments other than the nine-story building were not detailed in the funding request for the project. Guiding the overall vision for the area is the need for affordable- and market-rate housing as well as enhanced safety, access to fresh food, and improved quality of life, the project’s funding request said.
Kristin Turkelson, planning director for the city of Grand Rapids, said earlier this month that neither she nor her colleagues had met with Trinity Health Saint Mary’s about the project.
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