Corridor Improvement Authorities Underway

May 7, 2007
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A new tax capture plan is driving a pair of initiatives on opposite sides of the Plainfield/Division corridor. The separate plans — both involving partnerships between neighboring municipalities — hope to achieve aesthetic and infrastructure improvements along stretches of Plainfield and Division avenues.

In late 2005, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed into law Public Act 280, the Corridor Improvement Act, allowing cities, villages and townships to create districts similar to a Downtown Development Authority for older commercial corridors along major traffic thoroughfares.

These commercial corridors are not traditional main streets, although there are some similarities. According to Mark Nettleton, the Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones attorney that drew up the four authorities in Kent County, the act applies to corridors that have suffered as traffic has shifted to competing areas. Generally, these contain a mix of “mom and pop” businesses and larger retailers, often with a larger percentage of locally owned businesses than emerging corridors.

Some of the more prominent examples in the Grand Rapids area are 28th Street in Wyoming, north Plainfield Avenue and south Division Avenue — all state highways.

A Corridor Improvement Authority is empowered to improve and update streetscape, electrical, parking and other infrastructure, and also fund façade improvements and other development projects. This is funded through captured property tax revenue on improvements in the district. Bonds can also be issued on that revenue.

Byron and Gaines townships are in the process of forming authorities to promote the Division Avenue corridor that runs from 60th Street to 84th Street. The west side of that segment of Division is Byron Township; the east side is Gaines Township.

The initiative follows a streetscape project done in conjunction between the two townships, the Kent County Road Commission and the Cutlerville Chamber of Commerce, to be completed this summer. The first phase of the project rebuilt Division Avenue from 60th Street to 68th Street last year; this year, construction extends from 68th Street to 76th Street.

“Once we get that complete, it’s an issue of maintaining that corridor for the future,” said Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton. “We want to continue to improve that corridor and keep businesses in there viable for many years to come.”

Gaines Township should adopt an ordinance establishing the authority in the next six weeks. Byron Township adopted its ordinance in April and will appoint a seven-member board at its May meeting. Once appointed, the two boards will work in concert.

“This is going to enhance the whole area,” said Audrey Nevins, Byron Township supervisor. “This will be nothing but a positive.”

Plainfield and Grand Rapids townships last year formed authorities as part of a combined effort to make roughly $3 million worth of improvements to the nearly two-mile stretch of Plainfield Avenue from Lamberton Lake in Grand Rapids Township to Airway Drive in Plainfield Township. Four Mile Road is the township boundary.

While 88 percent of the stretch is in Plainfield Township, the Grand Rapids Township portion includes NorthTown Center, a key target in the township’s recently rewritten master plan. Bounded by Four Mile Road and Lamberton Lake, that quarter-mile area includes two vacant big box structures, underutilized surface lots, a trailer park and several smaller vacant retail spaces.

The township envisions that property as a mixed-use development that breaks up the surface lots with green space and residential structures, pushing retail toward Plainfield Avenue frontage and removing obsolete properties.

“We want to promote the strength of mixed use in these corridors,” said Grand Rapids Township Supervisor Michael DeVries. “We want both commercial activity and folks to support that activity. … The bottom line is that area is tired, and it needs a little re-investment to remain a vibrant retail district.”

The Plainfield Township portion of Plainfield Avenue has gained momentum of late. Nearly a half-million square feet of vacant commercial frontage surrounding the former North Kent Mall has been absorbed by new tenants. Meijer Inc. is building a new store on its current Plainfield Avenue location in the largest single investment in that corridor in decades. The authority also will tie into the Plainfield Motor Mile, a joint marketing effort by the seven new-car dealerships on that stretch.

“We’re looking to put some new dollars into what, by some, has been described as an aging business corridor,” said Plainfield Township Manager Robert Homan. “We’re looking for cooperation from the other taxing bodies to help us divert new money toward this.”

At this point, no taxing authority in Kent County has agreed to participate in either of the plans. The county opted out of the Plainfield Avenue authority, but will likely negotiate a portion of the increased property tax revenue to be captured for a set period of time. A policy for doing so is currently before the county’s finance committee. The Kent District Library has indicated it will also opt out.

Kent County has the highest concentration of Corridor Improvement Authorities in the state. Of the eight currently underway, four are in Kent County. Other municipalities working to establish CIAs are the city of Sterling Heights and the townships of Independence, White Lake and Waterford.

The city of Grand Rapids discussed in a March workshop the possibility of creating authorities within its neighborhoods. It has not indicated whether it will do so.     

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