DID Wants A Greener Downtown

April 2, 2004
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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.

The DID board, which sets the maintenance budget and assessment for the district and oversees the work of the Downtown Alliance, has recommended to the City Commission that district services continue another year, beginning July 1 and running through June 30, 2005.

The City Commission will hold a public hearing April 20 concerning the necessity of a special assessment.

Since mid-summer 2001, the Downtown Alliance has been providing maintenance and beautification services above and beyond those the city provides, including sidewalk and curb washing and sweeping, litter and trash removal, doorway and alley cleaning, landscaping, planting and mowing, and snow removal at crosswalks and around meters and sewer grates.

DID Chairman Robert Herr said the results of the board’s February survey of downtown business and property owners “came back very strong” in favor of continued service.

The survey indicated that 99 percent of business and property owners in the district feel that cleanliness of the district has a big impact on making downtown “vibrant and successful,” he said.

And 88 percent of respondents said downtown is cleaner since enhanced maintenance services began.

Of the 160 respondents, 73 percent ranked maintenance “very important” and 66 percent ranked beautification “very important” for the downtown area.

“People still want our focus to be cleanliness and beautification and we seem to be getting good feedback from them,” Herr remarked. “Overwhelmingly, what we’re hearing is: ‘Keep doing it.’”

This year the goal is to go “greener” with additional plantings, and the Alliance has developed a multi-phased greening plan toward that end.

Inspired by the city of Chicago’s gardened downtown, the Alliance wants to create a “garden in the city” feel for downtown Grand Rapids to give it an edge.

Chicago spends less than 1 percent of its budget on greening and flowers but has found it to be a cost effective way to make a dramatic difference in the appearance of downtown, noted Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Downtown Alliance and staff member of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re looking at this as an economic tool,” she said.

The greening plan includes adding planter boxes, hanging flower baskets and groupings of large urns to create impact.

“It will be bigger and more spectacular, and it will get noticed,” Herr predicted.

A longer-range goal, he said, is to upgrade the appearance of all gateways into the central city.

Two areas currently targeted for more greening are Monroe Center and East Fulton Avenue.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) kicked in $80,000 toward this year’s beautification effort, and the Alliance is seeking donations from area foundations, as well.

“We’re trying to make it more of a community-wide effort as opposed to just us spending assessment dollars to do things,” Herr added.

The DDA funds are going to a pilot project that will include planter boxes and nine or 10 large urns that will be grouped to create three or four garden spots at a location yet to be decided, Evoy said.

The Alliance also is developing a greening manual to encourage private property owners to participate in the greening of downtown.

The manual will outline the Alliance’s beautification plans and give property owners information on how they can spruce up their own property with plantings.

“A lot of people are interested in greening but they’re just not sure where to start. The manual will help with that,” Evoy said. She said the Alliance also wants to develop a greening symposium at some point.

Evoy said the hope is that the Alliance’s beautification activities will be a catalyst for private property owners to do the same.

“One thing that Chicago told us was that once the city started ‘greening’ and people saw the impact downtown, private property owners got into it and saw it as more of an investment than a cost,” Herr said.

The district’s proposed budget is $622,000 for fiscal 2004-2005.

Assessments to property owners this year will stay about the same as last year, said Jay Fowler, assistant planning director for Grand Rapids who provides staff support to DID.

The DID budget once again earmarks funds for United Way’s Downtown Resident’s Emergency Fund and the Inebriate Center at Mel Trotter Mission.

As it did last year, the Downtown Alliance will cosponsor two summer concert series, WLAV Blues on the Mall and WGRD New Rock. 

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