DDA driving street agenda

July 24, 2009
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A little more than two years ago, then-Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong, now interim city manager, asked the Downtown Development Authority to pay a larger share of street repairs in the district because the city’s street fund was running low as receipts from the state’s gasoline and diesel taxes had dropped.

The board agreed to do that in 2007 and has kept its commitment, spending $1.7 million to reconstruct two key downtown streets this summer.

“Over the years, the DDA has picked up a larger share of projects because these wouldn’t happen otherwise,” said Jay Fowler, DDA executive director.

At the last DDA meeting, board member Cathy Mueller, Grand Rapids Public Schools board president, asked why a street project had to be labeled as either a DDA or city project when both are part of the system that governs Grand Rapids.

“It’s a question of who is driving the agenda,” answered Fowler. “It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg problem.”

The DDA is driving the reconstruction of Ionia Avenue from Fulton to Fountain streets and of Cherry Street from Commerce to Division avenues this summer. The work on Ionia is expected to cost $1.45 million, with the DDA picking up $960,000 of that tab. The Cherry Street project should run $973,000, with the DDA footing $742,000 of that bill.

The DDA’s share of both bills is 70 percent; the rest comes from the city’s separate water and sewer funds.

City assistant engineer Rick DeVries asked the DDA to commit funds to the Cherry Street work before the project’s bids were in to the Michigan Department of Transportation, so he noted that the $973,000 price tag was an estimate.

But DeVries said the city wants to get the work done this year and likely wouldn’t be able to meet that deadline without funding from the DDA.

The work on Cherry Street is actually the first stage of a two-phase project. The second stage is projected to be done next year. Key to it is a realignment of the jagged Cherry Street and Division Avenue intersection the city considers hazardous to both motorists and pedestrians. The project will also replace the street’s crumbling brick surface and build a new pocket park at the intersection.

“Where the road is now, we gain a little pocket park,” said DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn.

Work on Ionia Avenue is underway; Dykema Excavators is the contractor.

The DDA also gave O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock & Associates, a landscape architect, the green light to look into replacing a portion of Rosa Parks Circle, which was designed by the internationally known artist Maya Lin. Fowler said the area between the concentric rings and pathways was originally paved with a product known as stabilized aggregate. But after nearly a decade of wear and tear, the stabilized aggregate is no longer stable and must be replaced. It has mostly turned into loose gravel and is causing maintenance issues and safety concerns.

“Our intent is to research several different paving materials, narrow the alternatives down to three or four which we will study in greater detail and review with the DDA and the Parks and Recreation Department,” wrote OCBA Vice President Wesley Steer in a letter to the DDA.

The DDA will pay OCBA $3,900 for its review. Fowler said any change made to the park by the city must be approved by Lin.

“We want to be in the position to go to her and say there are alternatives and here is what we would like to do,” said Fowler. “I do know that if we ask her to design it, she is going to charge us a lot of money.”

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