Law Would Let DDAs Go Wireless

July 23, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign Public Act 196 into law next week and give every Downtown Development Authority in the state the right to engage in two new activities.

The act lets a DDA create, operate and fund any marketing initiatives that could benefit a district, and it also allows them to contract for broadband and wireless technology services within the district.

DDAs have been prohibited from marketing downtowns ever since the state empowered these increment-tax-collecting bodies in 1985. That marketing task in Grand Rapids once fell to the now-defunct Downtown Management Board.

Supporters of the legislation argued that allowing a DDA to promote festivals, sales and other events within a district would foster the economic growth of a downtown.

They also said that giving a panel the right to sign up for broadband and wireless services could help draw new residents and businesses to a district.

Opponents argued that a DDA shouldn’t engage in the promotion business and should remain a “brick and mortar” body solely concerned with making physical improvements.

PA 196 was crafted from SB 1240 sponsored by Sen. Thomas George, R-Kalamazoo.

The Business Journal wasn’t able to reach Grand Rapids DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler for comment by press time.

Reportedly, the largest municipal wireless Internet system in the country debuted late last month in downtown Spokane, Wash., one that offers wireless access to 100 blocks of the district known as the SpokaneHotZone.

The Spokane system, which includes 10 antennas on rooftops, uses new technology that allows Internet signals to be sent for more than a mile. Spokane officials put the cost of their new system between $50,000 and $75,000. Users can connect for up to two hours daily at no charge. Subscription plans can be purchased for longer use.

The catalyst behind the project was the city’s desire to link communications among the various departments that are located downtown. But the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the city’s version of a DDA, said the wireless zone complemented its efforts to attract more software, multi-media and Internet-based companies to the downtown core.

“In addition to the incredible strides we have made in application delivery and increased efficiencies for our mobile work force, we are ecstatic about the economic development opportunities and the increase in public access to government that the SpokaneHotZone has provided,” said Joel Hobson, network service manager.

OneEighty Networks, Vivato, Itronix and Purcell Systems collaborated with Spokane officials to create the wireless zone.

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