Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

New downtown entity takes shape

March 22, 2013
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After at least a year in the making, it apparently won’t be long before Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. becomes the new organization for the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Alliance and Downtown Improvement District. The new entity also will serve as a direct downtown platform for the city.

The financial plan is due in May, and July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, has been set as the tentative date for the office to open.

“The organizational model is now more than a draft,” said DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson.

City commissioners will review the budget in June.

“The report suggested we’re about 80 percent of the way to completing it,” added Jim Talen, DDA board member and county commissioner. “Staffing will be coordinated in a much more efficient way.”

At its last meeting, the DDA heard that report and approved the concept of the new organization. Board members also gave Larson the green light to begin implementing it. “We’ve developed five goals, 13 strategies and 49 activities,” said Larson.

The first goal is to ensure that downtown is safe, attractive and livable, while the second is to market the district to West Michigan and the world.

“We want to make sure that downtown is everybody’s second-favorite neighborhood,” said Larson.

DGRI plans to accomplish that by promoting downtown as the essential downtown in the region, by developing tools for expanding the awareness of the district and by creating and supporting events and promotions that deliver the best returns for downtown.

The third objective is to foster a prosperous district through investments that support economic vitality, improve urban life, promote growth and upgrade the public realm.

“This is more aligned with the core function of the DDA,” said Larson. “We want to make sure that we don’t rest on our laurels. If you’re a creative type, there is a place for that to go. If you’re a doer, there is a place for you.”

The fourth goal is to ensure that downtown is seen as an economic engine that is valued and supported throughout the region. The plan is to increase the public’s understanding of the economic benefits that come from private and public investments in the district and to improve public policy to support economic growth.

The fifth goal is to assure the long-term organizational capacity and capability of downtown by utilizing revenues in an effective and efficient manner and to develop a productive, supportive and enjoyable place to work.

“As an organization, we want to do a lot more listening to the community. We want to make sure there is an easy way for people to get to us,” said Larson. “The next phase is going out to our partners. At the end of the day, I want our partners to be passionate about downtown.”

Larson said a board of advisors will be created for DGRI and will bring the organization together under the current model. “We want to make sure our new role is clearly defined. If it makes sense for downtown, it makes sense for Downtown GR Inc.”

Larson also made it clear that City Hall will play a strong role in DGRI through planning, parking, zoning, economic development and other departments and through its leadership.

“The city manager is always a part of this. We don’t want to create any separation from the city,” he said.

DGRI evolved from the Framework Plan drawn up by a Denver consultant for the DDA a few years ago.

DDA Chairman Brian Harris likened its role in the new entity to that of a parade marshal and a curator. “It’s a plan. It may not be a complete plan, but it’s a model,” he added.

“The average Joe has an opportunity to get involved with this,” said Larson.

Staffs from the DDA, the alliance and the DID will be combined in the new office. Colliers International of West Michigan Principal Ray Kisor is looking for the right location for the office.

“We’re thinking about a very different environment,” said Larson, who is expected to be the chief executive of the new entity.

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