Cass Transformation Project Honored by Planning Commission Award

The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission (SWMPC) presented the 2022 Graham Woodhouse Intergovernmental Effort award to the Imagine Cass-Embrace the Vision, Cassopolis Transformation Project.  The award is presented annually for projects that exemplify cooperation between and among governments, non-profits, and private entities.  It was established to recognize and reward the partners who execute complex, regional problem solving that optimizes the use of limited resources.  The partners involved were deemed deserving for their resourcefulness, dedication, and persistence.

The 2022 Graham Woodhouse award was given to project partners that included the Village of Cassopolis, Michigan State University Extension, Cassopolis Main Street, Midwest Energy & Communications, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, Cass County, and Cass County Economic Development Corporation.

“The Imagine Cass Project sought to transform our entire community, stop the perpetual decline and unite, for the first time in decades, under the core principles of community vision, collaboration, citizen-led change and the premise that if you invest in yourself, others will invest in you.  It has been our goal of the project to create a community that our residents can be proud of,” stated Emily LaGrow from the Village of Cassopolis.

Major collaborative projects in small communities are challenging as public officials and resources are often stretched thin.  In Cassopolis, community-wide collaboration between any two of the organizations involved in this project was challenging enough, let alone an ambitious partnership involving multiple organizations. In addition, as a small community it was historically difficult for the Village to have the required match funds needed to seek grant dollars.  All these characteristics make the accomplishments of this project particularly noteworthy.  With the strong partnerships and collaboration created, the Village was able to successfully navigate through massive change spurring significant outside economic development.

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The Imagine Cass-Embrace the Vision, Cassopolis Transformation Project, is the quintessential multi-sectoral engagement of 21 identified partners and 25 separate funders that include public, corporate, non-profit, and private sectors. This project included the elimination of five blighted municipal buildings, the addition of murals throughout the community, 20,000 ft. of new roads that include water mains and sewer mains. It also included the MI Advanced Research & Technology Park (SMART). In addition, it included new playground areas designed by elementary school students, a new skate park, bike pump track, community events, and numerous other improvements.