Economic Development and Government

DDA will submit ‘aggressive budget’

June 6, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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The Grand Rapids City Commission tomorrow will get the proposed FY2015 budget for the Downtown Development Authority, which DDA board chair Brian Harris describes as “an aggressive budget. It’s going to take some work to get these things done.”

The entire DDA budget being proposed totals approximately $14 million and is separated into three parts. In the current fiscal year ending June 30, the DDA total budget is estimated to end up at about $13 million.

One part of the proposed budget is the $7.4 million in payments next year for long-standing debt service on public structures including Van Andel Arena and the Public Museum of Grand Rapids parking ramp.

In addition to debt service, the budget also is separated into two other parts: expenses funded by Tax Increment Financing and those funded by “non-tax” revenues. The non-tax revenue source is mainly income from the DDA’s commercial parking lots downtown.

The non-tax funded budget is proposed next year at almost $3.6 million; expenditures this year are expected to total slightly more than $1 million.

The new TIF-funded budget is proposed at $3.15 million; this year it is $4.775 million.

“There is a substantial increase in spending in the non-tax fund,” said Harris, “in large part due to a lot of vibrancy initiatives” being undertaken by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., which manages and implements DDA projects under the direction of Kris Larson and his staff, who are not city employees.

Livability has 10 categories with a total proposed cost of $605,000; this year it was $315,000. Vibrancy has 16 categories totaling a proposed $808,000; up from $542,713.

The Downtown Marketing cost would go from $100,000 to $225,000. About five other items under Vibrancy would be new in FY2015, including $30,000 for Public Space Activation. Larson said that project is an “exploratory” partnership between the UICA and property owners to create murals.

When asked to comment on what might be the most significant activities for revitalizing downtown Grand Rapids, Larson said he would highlight budgeted items under “improvements to the public realm.” One example he cited is the $125,000 being proposed to renovate the “Bridge Street streetscape/U.S. 131 underpass.”

The changes will improve the pedestrian underpass “so it actually becomes something people want to walk under,” according to Larson, including installation of colored LED lights along the sidewalk on Bridge Street “that turn it into a vibrant, almost artistic pedestrian experience.”

He describes that area as an “eyesore,” while the planned changes will “tie that Bridge Street area into the downtown through improved connectivity” with a “quick and meaningful impact.”

At the DDA meeting last week, Larson provided an FY15 budget narrative that cites the U.S. 131 underpass projects, which also include Cherry Street and Ionia Avenue. The DDA budget proposal is just part of the cost; the remainder will be covered by a variety of city funding sources, private/foundation donations and grants, according to Larson.

Urban Recreation Improvements are proposed at $150,000 in FY2015, for “recreational walk signage” and planning the expansion of downtown parks and some “potential infrastructure investments to enhance public space recreation opportunities downtown.”

“Bicycle Friendly Improvements” were budgeted at $100,000 for FY2015.

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