By MATT WALTERS
Capital News Service
LANSING—Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to create an Office of Urban Initiatives will help development in cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids, experts in Southeast and West Michigan say.
It will be a “frontline” office to assist communities with grant applications and urban planning, as well as redevelopment of downtown areas and brownfields, Snyder’s office said.
“This is a very positive step for Michigan,” said Andy Schor, assistant director of the Michigan Municipal League.
Focusing on development of cities is a great way to bring young people into the state and keep those who are already here, said Schor, whose Ann Arbor-based organization represents cities and villages.
He said cities now have to deal with too many state agencies.
“We want this office to be a one-stop shop that communities can go to for help,” Schor said.
While many urban areas share similar problems, he said each city has its own issues that the proposed office should deal with.
“There is no distinct urban agenda,” Schor said, “Alpena has different needs from Detroit or Grand Rapids.”
He said the league wants the office to function as a “catch-all for urban issues” and looks forward to collaborating with the state to improve urban areas.
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said he is enthusiastic about an office allowing the city to work directly with the state to solve problems.
“We are excited to have a state office that will be good at public policy and do more than just scheduling,” Heartwell said.
According to Heartwell, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm had staff in Grand Rapids but no one who dealt directly with the city’s policy issues.
“It’ll be great to have a public policy pipeline from the state to west Michigan,” Heartwell said.
Paul Tait, executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said he’s excited to see a new unit to address key urban issues.
“Right now, Southeast Michigan and Detroit are struggling to provide core services, especially in places that struggle with low-income families and a high population of elderly,” Tait said.
He attributed that struggle partly to a 32-percent drop in property tax revenue and a 20-percent drop in revenue sharing from the state, among other economic problems.
The office should address the economic prosperity of cities as its main priority, Tait said.
“Our urban areas have the greatest concentration of jobs, which makes them very important to our future,” Tait said.
To grow, cities need to attract 25-to-35-year-olds but a lack of urban amenities pushes them out of the state, he said.
Tait also said that while Southeast Michigan needs attention, the Office of Urban Initiatives should also work with other urban areas to fuel growth.
“Its not just Detroit,” Tait said. “We’re all in this together.”
Snyder’s deputy press secretary, Ken Silfven, said the office will advance programs and opportunities across the state.
“We want people to look forward to living and working in Michigan’s cities,” Silfven said. “Our urban areas are crucial to the health of our entire state.”
Silfven also said the state will partner with private and nonprofit organizations to revitalize cities.
Silfven said the proposal “has piqued a lot of interest in our cities, which bodes well for Michigan’s future.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.