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Fenton City Council: Streetscape Project Will Be in 2014

Change in federal grant program delays project; council and DDA members believe splitting project over 2013 and 2014 would harm businesses.

It’s official — Fenton’s Streetscape project will begin in early spring 2014.

City council approved the to have the construction take place over one season instead of two, and to wait until 2014 to try to secure up to $1.5 million in grant funding.

DDA Director Michael Burns, also assistant city manager, said the DDA has been working on Streetscape since 2010. It intended the project to begin this spring and for construction to take place in 2013, but the federal government changed how a grant program Fenton applied for is set up. Fenton has support for up to $500,000 through the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) through this grant program, which it applied for in April, Burns said.

The federal government supplies the funding for the grant program, which MDOT awards. The DDA found out about the delay two weeks ago, he said. The DDA had followed through to make sure Streetscape began in spring 2013, but the federal government made the change.

“It’s out of our control,” he said.

During the summer, U.S. Congress took funding for the Safe Roads to School, Transportation Enhancement Program and recreational trails program and grouped them together, said City Manager Lynn Markland. In addition, Michigan received $10 million less than anticipated. MDOT then had to decide how to divide the funds and learn how the new criteria for the grants worked.

Councilman Brad Jacob said he heard that the federal government consolidated the three programs to save money and try to reduce its expenses.

The other two options Burns presented to council for Streetscape were having construction begin in early spring of 2013, and forego receiving outside grant funding. Or, the city could have decided to begin construction in summer of 2013, receiving the MDOT grant, and having the work finish in the 2014 construction season.

Downtown business owners who are on the DDA board were concerned about having two construction seasons affect their businesses, Burns said. In addition, the owners of the Fenton Fire Hall restaurant and Cornerstone building that are going to be developed said they’d prefer Streetscape take place in 2014.

In addition, by waiting until 2014, the DDA can apply for funding through the Genesee County Transportation Enhancement Program, for Leroy Street construction from Shiawassee Avenue to Caroline Street, he said. This could be up to $800,000 in funding for the Streetscape project, although there’s no guarantee the city will receive it. But Streetscape meets many of the criteria for receiving a grant, Burns said.

Enhancements that the Cornerstone building needs could be installed during four to six weeks of the spring of 2013, Burns said. Construction on the Cornerstone building could begin in spring 2013. The building would then need a water main along Leroy Street from Caroline Street, including a storm sewer, sidewalk improvements, and a parking lot. The remaining storm sewer installation, water main, road work, sidewalks and aesthetic improvements for Streetscape would be in 2014.

Burns said the projects Fenton has undertaken are very complex, require a tremendous amount of planning and take a lot of time to complete. The city has no control over funding sources, their procedures, or their timetables for action, he added. City administration is trying to address the details in a way that's fiscally responsible, addresses the community's concerns and is sustainable. And city administrators needed direction from the Fenton council on how to move forward.

Councilman Les Bland said he believes there’s no way Fenton’s DDA district could survive two construction seasons and a winter in between.

Council unanimously approved having the DDA wait until 2014 for the Streetscape project.

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