Flint MI— With a $30.2 million investment by the Michigan legislature, Chevy Commons, a major site of the 1936 auto workers sit-down strike, is officially on its way to becoming Genesee County’s first state park.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a press conference March 31 inside Kettering University’s GM Mobility Research Center, which borders the site, to celebrate the “historic” spending plan.
Establishing Chevy Commons as a state park is part of the Building Michigan Together Plan, which will pump $4.7 billion in state surplus and federal stimulus funds into Michigan’s infrastructure and economy.
“The Building Michigan Together plan will invest $250 million to improve all 103 of our existing state parks and build a new state park in Flint. All of our state parks are important pillars of their communities. They support local small businesses, create jobs, and give people beautiful, welcoming places to make memories,” Whitmer said.
Key features of the new park may include kayak and canoe launches on the Flint River, green gathering spaces, and “linkages“ along the river into the community, Ron Olson, parks and recreation chief for the Department of Natural Resources, said.
“With the resources that have been put forward … we’re going to engage in our first state park in the city of Flint here in Genesee County. This is where families can recreate and benefit. Quality of life is important,” Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said at the press conference.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation also donated $5 million in support of the project.
“We know that it will bring tremendous benefit to the city. A healthy river will line the parks and trails and be a great asset. … We’ve already seen major changes to Chevy Commons, which has been transformed really from an industrial wasteland to a mutable park,” Kimberly Roberson, program director at the Mott Foundation, said.
The state park will offer new career opportunities for Flint youth, Executive Director of Flint & Genesee Education & Talent Dr. Kimberly Leverette said.
“For over decades now, Flint & Genesee Education & Talent has partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to connect hundreds of teams to job opportunities through the Summer Youth Employment Program,” Leverette said. “As part of the program, we take these young people to at least two state parks each summer. There, they explore and participate in recreation activities and complete projects such as trail clearing and invasive species removal. Up until now, we’ve had to go to Oakland County to complete this aspect of the program. But once this park opens, we’ll be able to do that right here in Flint.”
The $30.2 million investment is three times the annual budget Genesee County Parks receives to maintain all parks countywide, Barry June, director at Genesee County parks, said.
He, alongside local, state, and DNR officials have been developing a concept for the park for over a decade.
“It’s a product of a lot of work by a lot of people since 2009,” June said. “Now to actually have the money, it’s great. Now we can hit the ground running.”
Landscape Architect at Wade Trim Scot Lautzenheiser developed the concept plans for the park. He said he’s worked closely with the Flint River Restoration Project and residents to gather community input.
“You need to look at the whole project holistically when dealing with old brownfield sites. But a lot of thought has gone into that, a lot of planning,” Lautzenheiser said.
Statewide, park visitation increased from 28 million visitors to 35 million since 2019, a 30% increase, Olson said, providing a potential substantial economic boost for Flint.
“Parks generate value for their surrounding area. They sustain local small businesses. On average, for every dollar invested in land conservation leads to $4 of economic benefit, meaning that this park could have over a $100 million economic impact on the City of Flint,” Whitmer said.
Teressa Morris, owner of The Cookie Jar Co. in Flint said she looks forward to the positive impact a state park could have on her business and others.
“I think it’s going to bring a lot of people, a lot of new business. I think it’s going to be great for the whole community,” Morris said. “I love parks. When I was a little girl, we traveled all over Michigan going through the state parks. So, it’s nice to have a park here.”
June said Genesee County Parks expects to obtain engineering permits by fall 2022 and hopes to break ground next summer. The park is estimated to be complete by 2026.
Once established, it will be the state’s 104th state park.