In the Media

Kresge to help fund the dreams of Detroit neighborhoods

October 20, 2014

The Kresge Foundation will announce today a new $5-million initiative to help fund projects in neighborhoods across Detroit whose residents may feel left out of the reimagining occurring in the central city.

The three-year program — Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit — will award $50,000-$100,000 to each of seven to 10 grassroots groups whose projects are shovel-ready and could transform their neighborhoods. Kresge also will give smaller grants to help other groups plan projects they then could apply for funding to complete.

“We’ve certainly done bits and pieces of this over the years,” said Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson. “But it just seemed to us that with the conversation that has gone over the last number of years about how Detroit is reimagining and reclaiming its place in the world, so often the story passed right over the neighborhoods.

“So much attention is being paid to Woodward and downtown. It just seemed to us that we really needed to remind people that the real long-term energy of the city is rooted in residents and that we can build infrastructure and scaffolding of all different kinds, but at the end of the day, if residents don’t have the tools and resources they need to determine their own trajectory, this is all built on sand.”

The announcement comes as corporations, developers and foundations pour hundreds of millions into the city’s center to build projects ranging from a new hockey arena to the M-1 rail line — and as city and state officials work hard to move Detroit through bankruptcy court.

Kresge, a $3-billion Troy-based national foundation, has been a large part of the solution, spending millions on neighborhood projects already: $830,000, for instance, on the Vernor Avenue Corridor in District 6 (southwest Detroit); $1 million on the Detroit Grocers’ Fund to help improve neighborhood stores; $1.6 million on Detroit Future City; $1.1 million to the Detroit Land Bank Authority; $1 million-plus to ARISE Detroit to support its neighborhood transformation projects, and $1 million for police cars and emergency service vehicles.

Kresge approved $122 million in new awards and paid $144 million in existing grants nationwide in 2013 in the arts, education, community development, the environment, culture and human services. Thirty million dollars went to Detroit, more than any other single city. Additionally, Detroit got grants from Kresge’s $30-million Woodward Corridor Investment Fund.

“It’s far, far more than anywhere else we spend money,” Rapson said.

Kresge officials said they are not limiting which groups can apply.

“We want as broad a spectrum as there are neighborhood organizations and institutions to become involved,” Rapson said. “We certainly don’t want people to waste their time, but this is one of those times where you don’t want to predetermine where the creativity and energy come from.”

He said he wants residents to tap into things that make their neighborhoods their own, whether it’s new spaces, new business complexes or a particular issue, such as education. The larger projects must be completed within 18 months; the other plans must be submitted by August to be eligible for additional funding.

“When I was in Minneapolis, I worked for the mayor and one thing we came up with were neighborhood learning centers,” Rapson said. “They began as a concept called Parents’ Place where you could go have a cup of coffee, take a class, have your kids participate in some interesting things. I think we have the opportunity for residents to create mini-anchors in their neighborhoods. One really hopes that people will find ways to build community cohesion and identity.”

Rapson recalls being at a national conference recently with a woman who visits Detroit every six months.

“‘It’s like visiting a different city every time,'” he said she told him. “So we’re really going to throw the gates wide open and see what comes in.”

So what does this three-year Kresge pilot really mean, a project that will distribute $1.5 million in the first year, beginning with awards to be announced in March?

It means that neighborhood residents have an opportunity to evolve, to do the things that they’ve wanted to do rather than what the city officials or corporate execs decide for them.

Kresge to help fund the dreams of Detroit neighborhoods
Rochelle Riley, October 20, 2014, Detroit Free Press


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