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Five-acre plot in Grand Rapids once used in ArtPrize exhibit getting a big makeover

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Some of the vacant houses on Rumsey Street have been used in ArtPrize exhibits.

A team of eight community partners, including Grand Rapids Public Schools, health providers, and artistic groups are working together on a big project in Grand Rapids’ Roosevelt Park neighborhood.

The group of organizations, along with help from the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, are taking five acres of blighted properties and transforming them into new mixed-income homes and apartments, a public high school, and a community center.

“But doing so intentionally with the neighbors and their voices and their visions and tapping into their wisdom to create the future of their neighborhood,” Habitat for Humanity Kent County CEO BriAnne McKee said.

She says they came up with the idea three years ago, after deciding to not only study how Habitat homes can help new homeowners, but the neighborhoods they move into.

Roosevelt Park is a mostly working class Latino section of the city, with many generations of families living in the same neighborhood. The two-city-block area, now dubbed “Plaza Roosevelt,” is the same area used in this year’s ArtPrize exhibit, SiTE:LAB – Rumsey Street Project. The project won the juried award for Outstanding Venue in 2015 and 2016.

Reginald Smith has been president of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association for 20 years. He says there’s also an entrepreneurial culture.

“In the midst of all that diversity a lot of people work together and so I think that’s one of the values that kind of gets lost if you weren’t here and you didn’t walk around and you didn’t see it,” he said.

Grand Rapids Public Schools will use $20 million from a 2015 bond to expand the existing PK-8 Southwest Community Campus. The Spanish/English dual immersion high school could serve as a hub for the community, including pre-K classes and afterschool programs for teens.

The partners include Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Dwelling Place, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, Ferris State University, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, and Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association.

They hope to have a plan approved by next spring.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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