DDA sprucing-up downtown areas

April 26, 2010
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Members of the Downtown Development Authority recently OK’d a number of improvements for the Central Business District beginning with a reconstruction of four blocks of Commerce Avenue, along with a block each of Williams and Bartlett streets.

The project calls for a southern section of Commerce to get new asphalt and brick streetscape elements, similar to the work that was done to the avenue’s northern segment a few years ago. The Bartlett and Williams blocks will get reconstructed as brick streets.

“Commerce has a very, very rough condition,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler of the stretch that runs between Cherry and Wealthy streets.

The work has been estimated to cost nearly $2.5 million and the DDA will pick up $1.2 million of that tab. The remainder will be paid for by the city’s water and sewer departments. The DDA’s money will come from a 2009 bond package and from its local tax-increment fund. Dykema Excavators will manage the street work.

The DDA also agreed to extend its contracts for three years with City Sign Erectors of West Michigan and Williams & Works Inc. for maintenance of the downtown Wayfinding and parking sign systems at a cost of $104,000.The DDA’s share is $76,000, while Parking Services will contribute $28,000 to the contract.

“Jerry Powell (of Williams and Works) is very detailed and does a great job at managing the boards,” said Fowler. “This winter we didn’t lose any signs. I don’t expect much change. I don’t think we’ll be getting a new courthouse or an arena soon. There might be a public market that may have to be added.”

The board also agreed to replace some sickly, dead and destroyed trees in the district. The DDA will spend at least $4,400 to plant 100 new trees and authorized an additional $16,000 for maintaining the trees downtown. “It’s a harsh environment for trees,” said Fowler.

He added there are some irrigation lines that provide constant watering to trees, but those lines are largely limited to the most recent parking ramps that Parking Services has built in the past few years. About 50 downtown ash trees had to be removed because of the ash borer infestation that has affected a number of areas in the city.

Board members also decided to fund the ArtPrize competition for the second year in a row by allocating $25,000 to the three-week event to be held next fall. The DDA will be a “marquee sponsor” of art displays in six downtown parks and will hire a curator to assist with and manage the selections.

The sites are Ah-Nab-Awen Park, the Division-Cherry pocket park, the park near the Grand River’s fish ladder, Heartside Park, greenspace on Oakes Street near the Bank of Holland, and some open space on Weston Street just south of HopCat. “These are all parks in the downtown area,” said Kayem Dunn, DDA chairwoman. “I think it’s worthwhile to have our name on this.” ArtPrize is set to begin on Sept. 22.

The DDA also agreed to a memorandum of understanding to take part in a renovation of Lyon Square, which runs west from Monroe Avenue to the Grand River and is located between DeVos Place and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. The Convention and Arena Authority, the hotel and the Windquest Group, which owns the former River City Building at 201 Monroe Ave. NW, are also participating in the work that is likely to be done in phases over two years.

Concept Design Group is the lead architect for the project that plans to add a snowmelt system to the square and make it more accessible. Pioneer Construction Co. will manage the work. The estimated cost for construction is $3.2 million, while architectural services are expected to run about $350,000. The individual costs to the four parties haven’t been assessed yet.  The DDA pledged $10,000 to the design stage in January. “This keeps the project moving,” said Fowler of the memorandum. “But it doesn’t commit us to anything.”

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