Business Ventures

March 24, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Neighborhood Ventures steps out on its own today with a kickoff reception this evening in the Mezze Café and Cabaret at

39 W. Fulton St

Ventures is a new organization affiliated with the Neighborhood Business Alliance and it replaces the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program, but does so with a different twist.

"Neighborhood Ventures differs from NBSP in that it has more economic development tools that the neighborhood business areas need," said Kimberly Van Dyk, the executive director of Ventures and former director of NBSP, which folded earlier this year.

The Ventures to-do list is lengthy and includes creating a business recruitment program and commercial micro-loan program, performing on-site business training, improving building façades and public infrastructures, and assisting with marketing and special events.

But two other Ventures ventures are new efforts. One is implementing Business Improvement Districts. Under this program, any of the city's 20 business districts could agree to assess each business an additional tax and use that revenue to provide maintenance and beautification upgrades in the district and to market the district.

The other is creating Corridor Improvement Authorities, which would allow business districts to capture a portion of the property tax generated from improvements in a district. That revenue could also be used to pay for upgrades to infrastructure and for marketing. But city commissioners would have to approve a CIA.

"In both cases, they would have to form a board of stakeholders in the area. The BID money would be a pot of taxes that people would pay into and the CIA would be a tax-increment capture, and both would stay within the geographic area," said Van Dyk.

"The revenue would have to be used for improvements to that geographic area and those improvements would be decided on by those boards. Actually, the BID and CIA can be the same boards," she added.

Neither the BID nor the CIA should come as a surprise to any of the business groups, as Van Dyk said the organizations have been made aware of both.

"There are several that are interested in exploring the possibilities of using those in their areas," said Van Dyk.

Two of those areas include seven neighborhood business organizations, and both are first in line on the Ventures list. Starting in July, the Ventures staff plans to begin in the "Uptown" and "Southtown" areas by offering six services over two years in Uptown and nine over a four-year period in Southtown.

Uptown consists of the Eastown, East Fulton, East Hills and

Wealthy Street
business districts, while Southtown is comprised of the Franklin-Eastern,
Madison Square
and Division South business sectors.

"That is the thought right now. We know the Southtown project is going forward for sure," said Van Dyk, who is joined on the Ventures staff by Deanna Demory and LaToya Staten.

And unlike other economic development and assistance organizations here, Ventures is the only one that is exclusively dedicated to helping neighborhood businesses, which are largely retailers, restaurant owners and service providers.

Neighborhood Ventures has 12 members on its board of directors, seven of whom are appointed by the alliance. Van Dyk said Ventures selected the remaining five and recruited individuals who can offer direction to the business districts within certain specialty areas, such as the legal and accounting fields. Pat Waring of GrandValleyStateUniversity chairs the Ventures board.

NBSP ended its 23-year run in February after grants the agency relied on dried up. Also a nonprofit organization, Ventures has to raise its own capital and has a fundraising campaign going on right now. One group the agency is looking to for help in this effort is financial institutions. Banks like National City and LaSalle have a history of assisting business districts.

"Banks are mandated by the federal government through the Community Reinvestment Act to be involved in, obviously, community reinvesting," said Van Dyk. "And we think we are a natural outlet for that."    

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