DDA Funding A New Action Plan

April 11, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Downtown Development Authority took the first step in possibly creating a new action plan for the central business district last week when they agreed to invest $32,500 in a new state program.

Called Blueprints for Michigan’s Downtowns 2003, the program is being run by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the Michigan Housing Development Authority and the Michigan Municipal League. The program hopes to enhance 10 downtowns across the state, and the DDA wants downtown Grand Rapids to be one of them.

But only one of the 10 selected for the program will come from a city with a population of more than 30,000. Seven will be chosen from communities with populations ranging from 7,500 to 30,000. Two will come from towns with fewer than 7,500 people.

The state has hired HyettPalma Inc., a national consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va., to work with the selected downtowns on the action plans.

For the city to become involved in the program, it has to pick up half of the $65,000 fee. If selected, the city would receive a matching grant for the remainder of the program’s cost.

City Business Advocate Susan Shannon told the DDA that participating in the program could help better define the office market downtown, and provide the city with a marketing plan that could help organize and promote an entertainment district there.

“The result of this effort would be a five- to 10-year strategic business plan for downtown, which would outline specific actions to guide implementation of these strategies,” said Shannon.

“We would enter into an agreement with the state and HyettPalma as to what the services should be,” she added.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler recommended that the DDA fund the application because the last master plan done for downtown, the Voices and Visions report, is 10 years old and many of the suggested projects that emerged from it have been done.

Fowler also felt that putting together another plan would create an opportunity to bring fresh voices and new ideas into the mix. He added that HyettPalma is widely considered to be an expert in downtown development.

“The firm selected by the state to prepare the blueprint is well known for its success in preparing market-driven, action-oriented plans for downtown improvement,” he said.

The DDA is familiar with the firm as the board brought HyettPalma here for an economic summit that it sponsored in 1999 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

If downtown is selected, the planning process is expected to take five months. Then it could take up to five years to implement the plan.

But the funds the DDA approved are conditional on the city being selected and if it has strong input into what will be included in the plan.

“This certainly isn’t going to be another Voices and Visions,” said Shannon.

Applications for the program are due by April 25. Downtowns will be selected on a criteria basis and those chosen will be revealed sometime in May.

Fowler said if the city weren’t one of the 10 selected, he would return to the DDA with another proposal for an alternate plan.

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