DDA adjusts its budget for improvements

January 21, 2012
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The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority is rebalancing its budget for improvements it plans to make in the district. Eleven projects were on the board’s to-do list, but a few of those are done and several others won’t get started for a few years. At the same time, the DDA is considering adding two more projects to its list.

“This is a management tool that (DDA Executive Director) Jay (Fowler) is working on,” said Jana Wallace, DDA treasurer.

The bottom line for the rebalancing act is the DDA will spend $786,925 less on projects through 2014. While nearly $7.4 million in spending had been approved for those three years, an amended budget would drop that figure to just under $6.6 million. “That’s a multi-year change,” said Fowler.

The Urban Market project accounts for most of the drop: Its revised budget has the board spending $1.9 million less than the $2.3 million approved for the public portion of the development because of grants the city has received and the involvement of the city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority in the financing plan.

At least five other projects, however, bump up the board’s spending on improvements for the three-year period. Just the restoration of Oakes Street from Ottawa to Market avenues and a redesign of Lyon Street Square add $554,000 to the budget.

“Within the core downtown area, (Ionia) is the only street that has overhead wires,” said Fowler. Burying the power lines — a fairly expensive proposition — has added about $490,000 to the cost of the two-year project.

Two other improvement projects haven’t been added to the DDA budget. An upgrade to State Street has been postponed until 2015. Whether the work will be done then depends on whether the project is awarded a federal grant. But improvements to Monument and Veterans parks have a better chance of getting into the spending plan sooner than State Street, as the board discussed both projects at its last meeting.

Monument Park is a small strip east of Monroe Center on Division Avenue. It contains the city’s Civil War monument, which was refurbished a few years ago. Mayor George Heartwell, also a DDA member, felt it was time the board took on the project because the work has been pushed off the list in the past.

Veterans Park, which runs south from Library to East Fulton, contains monuments to local veterans who died in World War II and the Vietnam War. The DDA anticipated that Fitzgerald Investors LLC, which owns the Fitzgerald condo building across from the park at 33 Library NE, would make improvements to the park as part of the 2005 agreement it entered into with the city’s brownfield authority as 33 Library LLC. 

But after converting the former downtown YMCA into the Fitzgerald and the housing-market collapse that followed, Fowler said the firm has decided not to upgrade the park. So the brownfield authority has agreed to give the tax-increment revenue that would have gone to the developer to the DDA, and the board can use those dollars to improve the park.

“The tax increment could be captured and used for the park. The developer is no longer interested in investing their funds in the park, even though they would be reimbursed,” said Fowler. “That makes us eligible for reimbursement.”

Fowler said design work done in 2005 to estimate the cost of upgrading the park came to $600,000, plus contingencies. The tax-increment revenue is expected to total $747,500, which is enough to do the work based on the seven-year-old estimate. “What wasn’t done in 2005, though, was to get the stakeholders involved in the design,” said Fowler.

So board members approved a resolution that allows the DDA to be reimbursed by the tax-increment revenue from the Fitzgerald project. They also gave Fowler the authority to put together a group to decide what improvements need to be made to the park.

“Although the designs will be coordinated, the construction projects may be separated,” said Fowler of Monument and Veterans parks. “What Jana and I are going to do is put this in the priority plan and bring this back.”

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