District Seeks Enhanced Services

April 25, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Downtown Improvement District (DID) Board is seeking City Commission approval for another year of enhanced maintenance and beautification services administered by the Downtown Alliance and has proposed a 2003-2004 budget of $612,000 for the program’s continued operation.

The district’s maintenance and beautification program, which got underway in mid-summer 2002, has been carried out by OneSource under contract with the Downtown Alliance.

“We learned a lot and I think we made some significant improvements this year,” DID Board Chairman Robert Herr told city commissioners recently. “One is certainly a much higher level of maintenance that we see around the city. We continue to get a lot of feedback from people who live and work downtown and from visitors.”

The focus now is on expanding the district’s beautification program, deepening the Downtown Alliance’s partnership with the city and advocating for the growth and development of the downtown area, he said.

As reflected in the proposed budget, plans for the fiscal year are to reallocate some funding from maintenance to beautification, hire a part-time marketing and communications person for the Downtown Alliance and co-sponsor two concert series on Monroe Mall this summer.

For the second year, the DID board has earmarked $15,000 for the Public Inebriate Center at Mel Trotter Ministries, which opened last October, and again set aside $13,000 for the Downtown Residents Emergency Needs Fund administered by Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Changes in the district’s special assessment roll this year include an average special assessment increase of about 1 percent. Multifamily housing, which was previously exempt, is being added to the special assessment roll as required by a recent change in Michigan law, though they will be assessed at a reduced level. Single-family residences and condos continue to be exempt.

Like last year, assessments will be reduced for the 13 nonprofits owning tax-exempt properties in the district.

Also this year, enhanced maintenance and beautification services will be expanded to include recently redeveloped property at 133 Grandville Ave. SW and the street adjacent to it.

The City Commission will hold a hearing of necessity tomorrow at 2 p.m. to allow for public comment on the DID budget.

At the Downtown Alliance Board’s annual meeting last week, Chairman Dennis Sturtevant said the organization’s No. 1 priority remains maintenance and beautification, which continues to comprise nearly 70 percent of the budget.

Downtown Alliance maintenance equipment is funded by Downtown Development Authority (DDA) grants, not special assessments, he pointed out.

Other top priorities are advocating for development and growth of the downtown area and trying to find more ways to collaborate with the city on district services, he said.

Though the Downtown Alliance (downtowngr.org) service area is limited to the special assessment district, Sturtevant said the group is trying to beautify and improve all of downtown so as to create a “massive positive impact” upon visitors and others frequenting the area.

For the Alliance, the operative word is “clean,” but seasonal plantings and decorative banners are a part of downtown’s new allure, as well.

The district will see four times the number of plantings this year as some 3,500 flowers are planted this spring, noted Kevin Haviland, chair of the Alliance’s Maintenance and Beautification Committee.

Like last year, the Alliance will participate in co-sponsorships to bring activities downtown that create an air of excitement and help bring in business for downtown merchants, said Joe Tomaselli, chair of the Marketing, Events and Communications Committee.

The Alliance has renewed co-sponsorships for the summer Blues on the Mall concert series on Wednesday nights and WGRD New Rock On the Mall on Thursday nights. Tomaselli said the committee also has entertained thoughts of outdoor movies and a bigger downtown farmer’s market for the summer months.

He said downtown looks better since the formation of the Downtown Alliance and that people have noticed.

“We’re on the eve of opening our new convention center. From everything that we know and all the bookings that have occurred, our convention center is going to be a tremendous economic lift for the downtown area,” Tomaselli said. “What I’m particularly encouraged with is all the visitors the conventions will bring downtown.

“Good restaurants, good hotels, good museums and a clean environment — that’s what people notice and what separates communities that succeed in convention and tourism from those that just get in groups for one-time affairs.”

Police Chief Harry Dolan noted that police headquarters is right in the middle of the Downtown Alliance service area and said the group is doing “an extraordinary job.” After reviewing downtown area crime statistics for Alliance members, he suggested the organization submit a written plan of action detailing any further services it would like the department to provide to the downtown community.

“All the work that the Downtown Alliance does is made possible by the property owners in the downtown area,” said Jay Fowler, assistant city planning director. “These are considered services above and beyond what the city provides — services particular to this area because of the intensity of development and the intensity of downtown’s use.”

He said the Alliance is working with the DDA on a plan to place about 135 “way finding” signs downtown to direct visitors to the area’s cultural and entertainment venues, as well as other attractions.

He also noted that the city hopes to be one of 10 cities selected to participate in the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Blueprints for Michigan’s Downtowns 2003 program. Cities selected will receive professional planning services from Hyatt Palma, a firm that specializes in developing strategies to improve the economic vitality of downtowns.

The city submitted an application last week, and the DDA has agreed to provide the 50 percent match required of participants.    

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