Economic Development and Government

Streetscape revisions include ‘parklets’

DDA also awards two downtown incentive grants.

July 12, 2013
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A parklet is now an eligible expense under the revised Streetscape Improvement Incentive Program approved by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority last week.

The DDA created the incentive program in 2001, but board members felt a need to revise it because too few property owners took advantage of its cost-sharing aspect to make improvements. Only four have, the last one doing so in 2006. Over those years, the incentive program has awarded $113,750 in grants, with three at the $35,000 limit and one for $8,750.

“The program has not been heavily utilized,” said DDA Project Manager Tim Kelly.

DDA members also increased the amount the board will contribute to an approved project from 35 percent to 50 percent in an effort to encourage more property owners to look into the program. The maximum grant award will remain at $35,000.

“Is this enough? Is a 15 percent bump enough to persuade building owners to do this? We hope so,” said DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson.

“I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this program,” said DDA board member Elissa Hillary, also executive director of Local First, an organization that promotes area businesses.

Making streetscape improvements such as adding decorative pavers, planting new trees, removing old sidewalks and street furniture, and installing new sidewalks and snowmelt systems have been some of the incentive’s list of eligible expenses, which now includes the parklet.

A parklet is a small public area in an on-street and often metered public parking space, and is considered to be an extension of the sidewalk. The DDA’s revised streetscape plan covers the design and installation costs for a parklet.

Kelly said most parklets take up a single parking space, and there are enough available spaces in lots and ramps downtown that the sector’s parking capacity shouldn’t be greatly affected. Larson said the cost to create a parklet normally runs from $15,000 to $20,000, and the DDA would pick up half that tab.

“This enables businesses that qualify to add some seating to the streets, and the businesses are very excited about doing that,” said County Commissioner Jim Talen, also a DDA board member.

Parklets reportedly originated in San Francisco and are in other large cities such as Chicago. DDA Planner Eric Pratt said the only Michigan city he knows of that has parklets is Birmingham, and the DDA there provides financial support for the projects.

Board members also dug into two other DDA incentive programs last week and made a pair of awards.

One $10,000 building reuse grant went to MI Blendz LLC, owned by Dana and Terri-Jo Mettler, for the renovation of a storefront at 15 Ionia Ave. SW.

The Mettlers are opening a JuiceBlendz and YoBlendz franchise, a combined juice and yogurt bar, in the 1,500-square-foot space. They plan to spend about $358,000 on the renovation; their business will be the first of its kind in Michigan. The Mettlers recently signed a 10-year lease for the ground-floor space in the Blodgett Building, which is owned by CWD Real Estate Investment.

The second grant, from the board’s areaway program, went to Grand Rapids Civic Theatre for the Wenham Building at 20 Monroe Center. The theater is spending about $20,000 to fill the areaway, which is an extension of a building’s basement underneath the sidewalk. The DDA awarded the organization a $4,550 grant for the work.

The theater can use the DDA funds to demolish the areaway’s roof, walls and base slab. Areaways are considered to pose a danger to pedestrians because, over time, these extended basements can crumble.

“Our goal is to eliminate as many areaways as possible,” said Pratt.

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