DDA increases event funding

May 15, 2009
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Members of the Downtown Development Authority agreed last week to spend $327,805 to support events in the district.

The vast majority of those dollars will go to fund the city’s Office of Film, Music and Special Events and will be allocated over the next three fiscal years. A smaller amount will go to support ArtPrize, the inaugural arts competition Rick DeVos unveiled last month that will be largely held in and near the downtown district for two weeks this fall.

The DDA agreed to sponsor two sites in the ArtPrize competition, which begins in September, at a cost of $7,500 each.

The locales are the Blue Bridge, a former railroad bridge, and the Gillette Bridge, named in honor of former DDA Chairman and local banker Dick Gillette. Both bridges are situated on the Grand River near DeVos Place and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and are owned by the DDA.

“I think it’s an interesting experiment for art in downtown,” said DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn of the planned competition.

The board also gave ArtPrize the right to use the Blue Bridge as a display venue.

But board members balked at spending $30,000 to turn a warehouse the DDA owns at 435 Ionia Ave. SW into a hosting site for the competition. The money would have gone to new emergency exits, handicap accessibility, site preparation and staffing, along with a few other items. Members blocked the allocation because the DDA plans to raze the structure for a new shuttle bus parking lot.

“I’m somewhat reluctant to make investments in a building we’re going to tear down sometime soon,” said Mayor George Heartwell, also a DDA member.

While the board turned down funding for the warehouse, members did agree to keep it open as a potential hosting site for the competition. if someone else is willing to make the investment.

“It sounds like we need a little more investigation into this,” said Dunn.

The DDA awarded the city’s special events office $312,805 for the next three fiscal years. The funding will begin July 1 with $99,225 for FY 2010, a 5 percent increase from this year’s award.

The board also agreed to raise its allocation by 5 percent each year for 2011 and 2012, meaning the event office will receive $104,185 and $109,395, respectively, from the DDA for those years.

DDA member Jim Talen, also a county commissioner, remarked that giving an agency a 5 percent hike would have raised questions at the county commission, more so during a recession. DDA member Brian Harris, president of H&H Metal Source, asked whether the event office was a foster child getting temporary assistance or an adopted one that would receive permanent help.

Dunn said event funding falls under the category of marketing downtown, a legitimate expense granted by the state in the DDA charter.

Office Director Todd Tofferi said more than 100 events were held downtown last year and brought more than 1 million people into the district in 2008. He said about 70 events were held in other parts of the city last year and attracted up to 150,000 people to those areas.

In addition to setting up events, the office also handles requests from film companies. Tofferi said the movie “The Chaos Experiment,” which was filmed in the city last year, resulted in an estimated $1 million being spent locally.

“We have a lot more stuff coming down this year, particularly with ArtPrize,” said Tofferi. “We’ve made a lot of progress in working with the Downtown Merchants’ Council and we’ll continue to do that.”

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