Twice As Nice For DDA

December 17, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — If commissioners approve the Downtown Development Authority’s expansion, it will be the 15th time the city has amended the original plan since the panel came into existence in 1979.

Their action would also mark the eighth time the board’s boundary has been expanded since the original 46-acre, 10-block district was created in 1980. Back then the DDA roughly ran south from the old Grand Center to Fulton Street and west from Ottawa Avenue to the east bank of the Grand River.

An approved expansion would give the DDA a total of 677 acres, an area almost 15 times larger than the original one. The proposal would expand the board’s reach and influence by 371 acres, with 279 of those new acres located at the eastern edge of the current boundary.

That district is bordered by I-196 to the north, Wealthy Street to the south, Prospect Avenue to the east and Division Avenue to the west. It includes Saint Mary’s Health Care, Grand Rapids Community College, and the remainder of the Heartside Business District not in the DDA.

The expansion plan would also add 55 acres west of the Grand River, including six blocks around a developing Bridge Street in the Stockbridge Business district, and 37 acres south of Fulton Street along the river’s east bank. That section includes the city-owned Public Works Island on Market Avenue, the riverfront property the city tried to sell.

“Over time, all the tax districts would benefit. It will provide a dividend over time,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler.

Throughout its history, and regardless of its boundary, the DDA has played key roles in the commercial development of downtown. Its major accomplishment, though, is very likely the role the board played under the leadership of then-chairman Verne Barry when it took the lead in creating Van Andel Arena. The DDA committed $54 million to the $75 million project, and the arena has been a catalyst for tens of millions of dollars of private-sector investments since 1996.

A handful of other prominent developments the DDA has assisted include Plaza Towers, the Days Inn, DeVos Place, the JW Marriott Hotel, Rosa Parks Circle and the Van Andel Museum Center. The board has also helped to form the DASH shuttle service, and has provided funding for most of the downtown parking ramps and lots.

“I think the redevelopment in downtown Grand Rapids is so remarkable. You can walk all over the downtown area and see the benefits,” said DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn.

“You can point to specific buildings that have had a grant, or some sort of support, and have been improved because of DDA funds,” she added.

So far this calendar year, the DDA has awarded private developers at least $347,500 for renovation projects. The board has $2.26 million set aside in development support for the fiscal year, and a portion of those dollars can go to building renovations.

Should the expansion be enacted, the DDA’s first order of business will be to build a new DASH lot on a portion of Wealthy Street that would become part of the new boundary. The board will also be looking to expand its involvement next year in drawing retail businesses to the district.

“We don’t think we’ll be a shopping destination like the Grandville mall, but we want to enhance the retail downtown,” said Fowler.

The last time the DDA expanded its boundary was in 2002 when it added a five-block, 34-acre district. That expansion added Calder Plaza and DeVos Place and gave the board a total of 306 acres. So if commissioners approve the current expansion request for another 371 acres, their action would more than double the size of the DDA district in one swoop.

City commissioners are holding their second and last hearing on the expansion plan Tuesday night.

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