USDOT denies Inman BUILD grant, for now

Downtown project still moving ahead

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 11/14/19

Although the city of Cleveland was not awarded a $17 million U.S. Department of Transportation “Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development Grant,” which would have funded the city’s …

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USDOT denies Inman BUILD grant, for now

Downtown project still moving ahead

Posted

Although the city of Cleveland was not awarded a $17 million U.S. Department of Transportation “Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development Grant,” which would have funded the city’s revitalization of the Inman Street Corridor, city officials vow they will reapply for the grant next year.

On Nov. 6, USDOT announced the city of Memphis was the only city in Tennessee to receive the grant.

Cleveland City Manager Joe Fivas said the decision was just “a minor bump in the road.”

The multi-million grant would have played a key role in the first phase of the city’s implementation of its Downtown Redevelopment Master Plan, unveiled earlier this year.

The master plan proposes a new tree-lined streetscape design for Inman Street, with sidewalks, medians and roundabouts to facilitate traffic flow. 

A key element of the plan includes reducing the number of lanes from four to three to slow traffic as it passes through downtown.

Although Inman Street will be less one lane, it will gain designated turn lanes separated by medians.

The Inman Street streetscaping project is planned to begin where a roundabout is to be constructed near Starbucks at the Village Green, through downtown and extending past the railroad bridge into East Cleveland. Two more roundabouts, one located just beyond the railroad bridge, will intersect Linden Avenue S.E., with another intersecting Gaut Street N.E. and Dooley Street S.E. 

City leaders hope implementation of the master plan will attract new residents to Cleveland’s growing economy which threatens to produce more jobs than workers to fill them. As a result, city leaders are focusing efforts to transform the city’s downtown into a community that will be attractive to young professionals who desire to live in urban environments where there is plenty of housing, as well as restaurants and stores within walking distance from their residences.

Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks said that while city officials were disappointed the city did not receive the grant, “our research and conversations with state and federal representatives shows that most communities have to apply multiple times to be awarded the BUILD Grant.”

“The USDOT likes to see long-term commitment on a project before awarding grant funds,” Brooks said. “I feel our city council, city staff and myself are confident that we will be awarded this grant in the future.”

Brooks said city officials will be meeting with USDOT representatives, U.S. senators and U.S. representatives in January to determine where they can improve the grant application.

“Then we will make an all-out effort to educate and gain insight into the goals of USDOT and federal elected officials in implementing the project to help put us near the top of the list in 2020,” Brooks said. “We are just getting started.”

The BUILD Grant "provides a unique opportunity for the USDOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives,” according to a statement released by the city of Cleveland on Thursday.

City Manager Joe Fivas said the city has another plan in place in case of a setback. As a result, the backup plan will enable the city to continue implementing its master plan for Inman Street.

“The good news is city staff has a contingency plan that will not delay the Inman Street revitalization project even one week,” he said. “We discussed this plan at our last city council meeting. We intend to ask the city council to begin the low-cost, environmental review which is federally required by the National Environment Policy Act.”

Fivas said the NEPA process will take roughly one year to complete.

“Then, we can reapply for the Build Grant in 2020 and be one year closer to project completion,” he said.

Cleveland Urban Area Metropolitan Organization Coordinator Greg Thomas said the city “put forth a very strong BUILD Grant application” for its Downtown Revitalization Master Plan.

“We had recommendations from all of our congressional delegation, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and others,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time when our number gets pulled on this transformational revitalization project.”

The timetable for the next grant funding cycle will be announced by spring.

In addition, city officials will also look at other state and federal grants that will complement, as well as lower the costs and scope of the project.

The city of Memphis was awarded a $12 million BUILD Grant earlier this month for the design and construction of a Bus Rapid Transit line from downtown Memphis to the University of Memphis, according to a press statement released by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn).

“Between this new transit system and the Union Row Opportunity Zone redevelopment project, Memphis has several impressive infrastructure projects coming its way,” she said.

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