Construction, Economic Development, and Government

DDA eyes boundary expansion

Other changes would focus on affordable housing and minority, women businesses.

October 21, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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The “downtown” boundaries could receive an update before the end of the year.

An expansion of the downtown boundaries is among the three main policy changes recommended by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority earlier this month. The other two changes are an added focus on investment in affordable housing and minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as the exemption of voter-approved property tax millages in the tax capture.

The boundary change roughly would include Logan Street to the south, Seward Avenue to the west, Leonard Street to the north and Heritage Hill to the east.

This update to the plan will allow the DDA to move forward with its initiatives planned in GR Forward.

“It’s making sure it’s aligned with GR Forward, so we can do the activities around affordability and promoting minority- and women-owned businesses,” said Tim Kelly, DDA project manager and vice president of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. “It sets the stage to do those things moving forward.”

City commissioners must now schedule a public hearing for the plan and approve the plan before it is filed with the state. The update to the DDA’s Development and Tax Increment Finance Plan, which is required by state law, would be the 16th update since the DDA was established in 1980. The most recent update was 2007.

“This is an opportunity to align the boundaries with the priorities identified in GR Forward,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “GR Forward includes several important public projects that either extend beyond the existing DDA boundary or are located outside of the current boundary. This proposed change will enable us to use DDA tools to assist with the implementation of these plans.”

The DDA boundary changes would include more riverfront space for trails and river restoration activity; a northern addition for a possible park on Ionia Avenue; a western addition to develop a park under U.S. 131 and the Ford Freeway; and an addition to the south for development near Downtown Market.

The recommended plan would prioritize the investment in affordable housing options to help diversify downtown, Kelly said. How those developments or businesses are funded still is up in the air, Kelly said.

The plan also eliminates tax collection on any voter-approved property tax millages beyond Nov. 7, which includes the proposed Grand Rapids Public Museum and John Ball Zoo millage.

“Voters don’t go to the polls to raise taxes for DDAs,” DGRI President and CEO Kris Larson said in a release about the DDA TIF Plan. “They go to the polls to consider the merits of specific investments in our children, veterans, senior citizens, emergency services or the specifically defined community priority of the day. Eliminating DDA capture of these special voter-approved initiatives is simply the right thing to do.”

Kelly said the DDA’s plan to eliminate the capture of voter-approved taxes coincides with the legislation in the state House of Representatives that would eliminate the DDA’s ability to do so.

“It allows us to be good partners with other jurisdictions, so they can use money as it’s intended,” he said. “If a millage is approved, it allows the money to go toward what people think it is going toward.”

Kelly said along with the city commission, DDA officials are in discussions with organizations and jurisdictions affected by the proposed boundary changes, including Kent County, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Community College, Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority and the West Side and North Quarter Corridor improvement districts. Kelly said the DDA does not collect increments where corridor improvement districts already exist.

“We want to make sure we’re on the same page,” Kelly said. “They can opt out, but we want to make sure they know the benefits.”

The boundary change might be one of the last expansions the DDA undergoes, as Kelly said he doesn’t see many opportunities to go beyond natural downtown borders, including Heritage Hill, Leonard Street and Seward Avenue.

“When the DDA was formed, it was a very small district,” Kelly said. “It’s just the nature of growth downtown, and as investment and growth has happened, the DDA has tried to line up with that, but there’s a limit to that, and we’re pushing toward the end.”

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