#LifeOnTheAvenue: Profiling the people and organizations transforming the University Avenue Corridor

Over the next year, Kettering University’s ‘Life on the Avenue’ story project will be unveiled, featuring individuals and institutions throughout the corridor.

This is the first in a series that will profile the people, organizations and places in the University Avenue Corridor that make the region unique, compelling and – most importantly – vital to Flint’s bright future.

The roughly 2-mile strip of University Avenue stretches past Kettering University, through Flint neighborhoods and alongside small businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations and anchor institutions.

The landscape was once dotted with blighted properties, overgrown yards and a decaying historic football stadium. In a few short years, the University Avenue corridor has been at the heart of a mission of transformation in Flint, led by a coalition of higher education institutions, hospitals, community members, residents, students and other partners that have teamed up to show that together a difference can be made.

And, in a short amount of time, those efforts are becoming a model for community engagement and neighborhood stabilization in areas around the country.

Over the next year, Kettering University’s ‘Life on the Avenue’ story project will be unveiled, featuring individuals and institutions throughout the corridor, what the area means to them and why they believe this rapidly transforming region offers great promise for the future of the city as a whole.

Creating Partnerships and Investment

Kettering University has played an active role in organizing the many people and organizations invested in the corridor and providing resources to ensure those collaborative efforts are successful.

Kettering’s efforts have included taking on neglected properties, demolishing more than 50 unsafe structures and creating and maintaining natural green spaces.

Two convenience stores in the area – both at one time magnets for crime – have been eliminated. One was transformed into Einstein Bros Bagels and a police mini-station. Another will soon house a Jimmy John’s restaurant.

The grand re-opening of Kettering University's Atwood Stadium drew more than 4,000 spectators in August of 2015.

Kettering and a coalition of community partners led a historic revitilization of Atwood Stadium, including a state-of-the-art playing surface rivaled only by those at Ford Field in Detroit and Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The facility gives the city a venue capable of hosting concerts, major sporting events and community events.

Partnerships with organizations like Carriage Town Ministries and the Ruth Mott Foundation have transformed two formerly blighted corners at University Avenue and Grand Traverse into attractive mini-parks, both of which have hosted community gatherings and family-friendly events since their creation.

University Avenue Corridor Coalition

The University Avenue Corridor Coalition was formed in 2012, bringing together residents and area institutions to work collectively to beautify and draw investment to the area. Just over three years later, the group has led community cleanups that involve neighborhood associations, college and high school students, private residents and many others. Those cleanups have successfully beautified and maintained landscaping, fixed broken windows, painted both residences and businesses and – most importantly – brought  a fresh perspective and collaborative spirit to the avenue. They've also inspired other community partners to launch similar initiatives modeled after Kettering's successful Service Saturdays program.

"The University Avenue Corridor Coalition has nurtured a community that can meet in a neutral, non-controversial fashion,” said Jack Stock, director of External Relations for Kettering. “We share our stories, support one another and, most importantly, work towards a common goal of simply improving our neighborhood."

The UACC region extends from McLaren Hospital on the west to the University of Michigan-Flint on the East. It is bounded by Hurley Medical Center and Whaley Children’s Center on the north and the Flint River on the south. The organization’s mission is to transform the region into an attractive and crime-free community that is conducive to sustainable development.

The UACC, with Kettering University acting as the fiduciary, received a $1 million community engagement grant from the Department of Justice in 2014. The grant, along with other partnerships, focused on crime prevention and blight elimination along the corridor.

The UACC also received a $150,000 grant from the Center for Disease Control to implement health and wellness and community education initiatives in 2014. Prior to Atwood Stadiums renovation, the University, with support from the UACC, hosted community ice skating at Atwood Stadium for two years before partnering with University of Michigan-Flint to reopen the city's downtown Flint ice rink in 2016.

An implementation plan set to decrease crime and blight along the University Avenue Corridor was approved by the Department of Justice in January of 2016, allowing the remaining $800,000 in funding to be released to the UACC for implementation to begin – something that gives the UACC great momentum to continue the progress they’ve already made throughout 2016.

Since 2014, more than 400 Kettering University students have volunteered for service projects in the University Avenue Corridor.

Along with Kettering University and the organizations on the region’s borders, other members of the UACC include Carriage Town Ministries -- an anchor partner whose passion for revitalization of the corridor has been a model for other members -- Powers Catholic High School, Shelton Tire and Service and Hoffman’s Deco Deli and Café.

"There are a special set of businesses in our area - those that have stuck with the community even during the hard times. These businesses are our survivor-warriors. We need to support them along with welcoming the new enterprises that are coming in to our area. I've never been so excited about the prospects for the future of this community,” Stock said.

The business owners and employees, residents, students and community members have a story to tell.

Life on the avenue has changed and transformed over the years. But one thing hasn’t changed and that’s the need for community.

#LifeOnTheAvenue features will run during the fourth week of every month in 2016. Follow along on social media using the #LifeOnTheAvenue hashtag.