Economic Development and Government

DGRI set to make its official debut

New downtown organization will hold its first meeting.

September 20, 2013
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The new Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. meets for the first time this week.

DGRI is the umbrella organization that emerged from the Framework Plan adopted by the Downtown Development Authority after the board hired a Denver consulting firm three years ago to help define its future role.

The DDA, the Office of Special Events, the Downtown Improvement District and, now, the Monroe North Tax Increment Financing Authority are combining their management operations under the DGRI banner. The Downtown Alliance also was to have been a part of the new organization but is being phased out instead with many of its duties being transferred to the DID.

The DDA recently approved a services agreement with DGRI.       

“What this document does is outline the services between DGRI and the DDA,” said DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson.

The city and the Monroe North board will have separate agreements with DGRI.

The DDA’s contract with the organization lists a dozen services DGRI will perform, such as maintaining the district’s upkeep and snowmelt systems; promoting economic activity across the sector through market research, public relations and special events; creating the sector’s long-term plans; serving as an advocate for the district; and developing and recommending projects and programs for downtown.

“To the general public, what they will see is an aligning of these dollars and a better outcome,” said Larson. “What we tried to do was not create in-perpetuity documents. We don’t want to lock anybody in.”

Many of the plans and ideas that come out of DGRI will be sent to the DID board of directors, which is being expanded to include many of the directors who guided the Downtown Alliance.

“The DGRI process is more formalized,” said Larson. “The (DDA) board will also participate in that decision-making process.”

DDA Chairman Brian Harris compared the process that created DGRI to sausage making: having to stuff the separate agencies, which each will have their own budgets, into the new umbrella organization. “Each of the entities are a little bit different in how they operate,” he said.

But for some of the DDA members, the language in the agreement was confusing, and not all members had a chance to review the contract before it came before them.

“None of us had a chance to read the document,” said Mayor George Heartwell, also a DDA board member.

“Some of us have, but the body has not,” said Harris.

Still, the DDA unanimously ratified the agreement.

DGRI will have a board of advisors made up of city and county leaders, members of the DDA and DID, the chairs of its “alliances” for investment, vibrancy and livability, along with regional leaders and key partners. At least five standing councils will provide input from residents, merchants, the commercial real estate field and others.

“We want to do more collaboration work with the other groups downtown,” said DDA Vice Chairwoman Kayem Dunn.

DGRI will be located on the ground floor of the Federal Square Building at 29 Pearl St. NW, the former home of Three Crowns Bistro restaurant. The organization leased 4,300 square feet there for seven years with a five-year option at a starting monthly rent of $5,195. Rent will rise by 2 percent per year, but the first two months are free, as is the build-out of the space.

Larson said DGRI should be in its new space sometime next month.

On a somewhat related matter, the DDA has issued a Request for Proposals for a new Downtown Plan and has received about a dozen replies so far. The purpose behind the RFP is to come up with a vision on how to promote further investment in the district and then create the strategic ways to complete that mission.

“I think this Downtown Plan is a pretty significant project,” said Harris.

Proposals are due Oct. 4, and the DDA expects to select a consultant Nov. 13, following interviews and negotiations.

“This is simply an effort to align all activities,” said Larson, adding the aim isn’t to create a control document. “We can only plan within the DDA district.”

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