Greene County this month distributed $23 million of the $57 million it was granted through the American Rescue Plan Act.
The first allocations, announced June 16 by the Greene County Commission, were for applications seeking more than $500,000.
The largest amount was granted to Burrell Behavioral Health, with $5.3 million to put toward a mental health crisis center for people under 18 years old.
The second highest grant was $5 million toward the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds multipurpose arena, which can be used during the annual fair, but also to host trade shows, livestock exhibitions and sporting events.
The third-highest award was $4.5 million granted to The Vecino Group LLC, a private development firm that plans to build affordable housing on Commercial Street. Called Carver Commons, the four-story development is slated to have 35 apartments, with a business incubator on the ground floor.
Other recipients are Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield Inc., which was awarded $2 million to build a teen center; Missouri State University, $1.5 million for construction of a manufacturing project at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center; Neighborhood Coalition Group, $1.5 million for improvements to Silver Springs Park; Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc., $1 million for a new facility to house existing programs; Greene County Family Justice Center Alliance, $855,670 for improvements to the Family Justice Center; Ozarks Technical Community College, $750,000 to help establish its aviation mechanics program; and Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri Inc., $475,000 for the final phase of its Legacy Trails neighborhood in northwest Springfield.
Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said 51 applications were submitted in this round with a total request of $183 million. Staff and committee members, led by Springfield businessperson Lyle Foster, scored the applications to make sure they matched the intent of ARPA legislation, which offered 66 categories for expenditures and directed local governments to consider underrepresented and underserved groups.
Dixon said the scoring narrowed applications to 14 that went to the second round in the process, and those organizations made presentations on May 25.
Four finalists that did not receive funding were Salvation Army, Housing Authority of the City of Springfield, Springfield-Greene County Library District and Gathering Tree/Eden Village.
Dixon said the application with the highest funding request came from the Neighborhood Coalition Group, which sought $10 million to make improvements to Silver Springs Park, but the commission opted to award $1.5 million.
“Their plan was really more of a concept,” Dixon said. “We felt it needed to be developed into a plan. They needed a study, and they also needed additional partners. We felt like the seed money of $1.5 million would help them accomplish all of those factors.”
Foster, the county’s ARPA grant and equity specialist, said the remaining $34 million in county ARPA funds must by allocated by the end of 2024, and they must be spent by the end of 2026 or returned to the federal government.
Dixon said the timeline is made more challenging by inflation and supply chain issues.
“We don’t want to commit dollars to something that isn’t going to get completed,” he said.
Foster said the first round of funding was for projects that would have a big impact.
“We certainly wanted to feel like they were having a transformative impact on the community that needed to be in strong correlation to the Greene County needs assessment,” he said.
The areas of greatest need were determined by a September 2021 community survey of 1,719 county residents. The survey ranked mental health services as the top need by a wide margin, with 834 votes. The second through fourth needs were closely ranked, with affordable housing receiving 531 votes, service to unhoused persons receiving 528 and COVID-19 vaccinations receiving 526.
“These projects needed to be addressing one of those top community priorities,” Foster said.
He added the projects needed to have a clear funding plan and partnerships, as well as an equity component. “From the legislation, we understand now very clearly, COVID-19 had a disproportioned impact on people of color and people who are generally in lower income categories,” Foster said.
In addition to the county’s own needs assessment, the commission took into account “red flag” needs identified in the annual Community Focus Report, as well as census data.
Foster said Burrell’s application, which addresses the mental health needs of teens, was an easy choice for funding. “Burrell looks at a group of teenagers in particular – crisis facilities, there are none,” he said. “That captured the concern of our committee.”
And the application was thorough, Foster said.
“Burrell had an outstanding proposal to address this need, not in a piecemeal way, but a very comprehensive way for a very vulnerable population,” he said.
Foster said Vecino Group also scored well with its proposal to meet a community need.
“They do affordable housing nationally,” Foster said. “It’s a classic case where you’ve got a local entity making a huge impact across the nation but maybe not getting attention or recognition here at home.”
He said Vecino Group’s affordable housing project will cost $15 million, and the $4.5 million from the county will help leverage a much larger opportunity.
“It has the potential for having far-reaching economic impact,” Foster said.
The project will provide north-side housing for a population that is getting on its feet – people like teachers’ aides or hospitality workers, who are employed but for whom market-rate housing may not be feasible. Additionally, the Multicultural Business Association will be housed on the first floor.
Foster said the Vecino Group clearly demonstrated its ability to complete the project.
“They have an in-house development team that does all components of a housing project,” he said. “When they tell us they can do A, B and C, it’s fairly convincing that they can.”
Next up is the small-business funding round, for which applications closed May 31. The ARPA citizen advisory committee will make recommendations for funding to the commission. Funding for nonprofits will follow.
The congregation at Crossway Baptist Church is building a children’s wing at the west end of the church, and beginning in 2024, it will be home to a Christian academy.