Economic Development and Government

Downtown Plan moves forward

Board agrees on makeup of advisory group that will help select a consultant.

October 11, 2013
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The proposals are in, and members of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority agreed last week on the composition of a volunteer committee that will recommend a consultant to conduct the board’s latest research piece: its Downtown Plan.

“The RFP generated substantial responses. This selection committee process is going to be quite rigorous,” said Kristopher Larson, DDA executive director.

The committee will consist of a downtown resident, someone from the Grand River Whitewater project, a member of Friends of GR Parks, a retail real estate expert, a commercial real estate developer, a DDA or Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. board member, a downtown office tenant, a downtown retail tenant, an individual with The Rapid, and a parking, planning and city commissioner.

“It’s getting individuals who are willing to mow through 600 pages of materials,” said Larson of the 30 proposals that have been received. “The contractor is going to work for the advisory body.”

The addition of a planning and a city commissioner to the committee’s makeup came as an amendment to the original lineup and was suggested by Larson.

“We will basically be facilitating the discussion,” said Larson of the DGRI staff, which he presides over as president and CEO.

DDA board member and County Commissioner Jim Talen then tried to add a few more residents to the committee. He noted the southern section of downtown contains the district’s largest permanent residential population, primarily in the Heartside neighborhood, and he said all income levels should be represented on the committee, including lower-income residents.

“I really feel there is a significant population that needs to be represented here. If they’re not, it’s a statement of where we really stand,” said Talen.

“I think there are two very different categories in downtown residential and I think both should be represented,” said Wendy Falb, DDA board member.

Mayor George Heartwell, who served as an advocate for Heartside residents for three decades, said his experience has taught him that some of those residents don’t process information very well and felt that having one resident on the committee was sufficient. The board agreed.

The DDA’s Downtown Plan has 10 goals, including: determining what land-use changes may be necessary in light of the possible Grand River restoration project; creating a disposition plan for DDA-owned assets; prioritizing the short-, medium- and long-term public investments over the next 15 years; and performing an inventory of benchmarks, trends and policies that influence downtown.

The committee will review and rate the proposals, select finalists, conduct interviews and recommend the preferred firm or firms. The process is expected to be completed in November, and the DDA will consider the committee’s findings.

“I think, in reality, Kris is trying to move this project very, very quickly,” said DDA Chairman Brian Harris.

The DDA expects to initiate the Downtown Plan in January and have it completed in 12 to 16 months.

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