New bank coming to downtown

January 21, 2012
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The Downtown Development Authority began mapping out a plan last week for what the board calls “signature events” that it hopes will provide a positive economic impact for downtown businesses, and awarded a building reuse grant to the soon-to-be home of a new bank.

Board members gave Midtown Investment Trust, a division of the Ellis Parking Co., a $25,000 grant that will go toward making the ground floor of the former Republic Bank building ADA compliant and barrier free. Midtown plans to invest about $450,000 into the structure at 141 Ionia Ave. NW and First National Bank of Kalamazoo will lease the floor for its first branch office in the city.

“It’s been vacant for quite some time,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler.

Midtown had asked for a $50,000 grant, but because work isn’t planned for the second floor, the grant request was reduced by half.

“The upstairs would not become ADA accessible,” said Fowler.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell invited Midtown to make a second grant application when it is ready to renovate the second floor.

The DDA also took its first look at creating a new grant program that would help fund the type of events that would provide direct benefits to shopkeepers, restaurant operators and bar owners in the district. “This would really be designed for unique events,” said Fowler. “Some benefit businesses downtown, while others interfere with business.”

The DDA’s grant program would cover up to 20 percent of an event’s budget with a cap of $25,000 per event. But a grant could exceed the 20 percent budget limit if an event is being organized by a business group such as the Arena District, a coalition of restaurants and bars.

“The goal is to encourage more quality events,” said Joseph Tomaselli, DDA board member.

“We want to take some risks to encourage new events,” said Jane Gietzen, also a board member.

The guidelines for the program still have to be ironed out and the board is expected to get an updated version at next month’s meeting.

“I think our job here is to generate traffic,” said Fowler. “I think we have a general allocation of $50,000 for events.”

The board assigned $5,500 of that allotment last week to two events. One has the four downtown museums offering free admission on four Sundays from January through October. The other is a Mardi Gras event Feb. 21, which includes a parade, that will be held in the Arena District and is being put on by a group of merchants.

Board members elected Brian Harris as the new DDA chairman last week. Harris had served as the vice chairman. Because the DDA is undergoing a structural transition and creating an umbrella organization that would include the Downtown Alliance and a few other groups involved in the district, the board elected Kayem Dunn as an interim vice chairwoman.

The idea behind the interim move is to elect a member from another organization as vice chairperson once the transition is completed. “That conversation will become clearer over the next few months,” said Heartwell. Dunn has headed the board for several years during a time when the DDA has further helped develop downtown and started to reinvent itself. “You’ve done extraordinary service for this city in this position,” said Heartwell of Dunn.

The DDA also agreed to hire Jay Hoekstra as a contracted consultant to help with making the transition. Hoekstra has retired from his lengthy position as a land-use planner for the Grand Valley Metro Council. He will be paid $50 an hour for his services and his salary will be capped at $8,000.

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