DDA hands out funny money

February 13, 2012
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Members of the Downtown Development Authority made a serious business decision last week when they agreed to provide funding for next month’s LaughFest, which is being produced by Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids and is considered a signature event for the district.

The DDA doesn’t normally provide financial support for ticketed events held downtown. But the $7,500 the board awarded LaughFest will only go to the free community events, which will take place at a number of downtown businesses, cultural institutions and other spaces.

Last year, the inaugural LaughFest held 150 free events, and 25 downtown businesses took part in those. This year, the plan is to hold 159 freebies, including the community kickoff dinner, the opening night preview shows and the amateur comedy stand-up showcase. Gilda’s Club said the first LaughFest drew 55,376 people downtown, and 19,400 of those attended the free events.

The grant the DDA awarded was just half of what Gilda’s Club requested. Still, it wasn’t involved at all in last year’s LaughFest. All proceeds from the 10-day festival, which begins March 8, help fund the emotional support that Gilda’s Club provides to cancer patients and their families.

While many downtowners will find LaughFest funny, they may not feel the same about Fulton Street. One of downtown’s main arteries will undergo reconstruction from Market Avenue east to Division Avenue. The project gets underway this week and will be completed in June.

“For the majority of the project, traffic will be maintained in one direction each way,” said Rick DeVries, an engineer with the city.

“Individual blocks will be closed for a short period of time,” said Jay Fowler, DDA executive director.

The city and the DDA agreed to fund a major portion of the core rebuilding and streetscape work last week at a cost not to exceed $546,000. The DDA will pick up $396,000 of that tab, while the city will cover the remaining $150,000. The resurfacing of Fulton is expected to cost $793,000. Federal grants worth $290,000 will go to that effort. The DDA has allocated $200,000 to the resurfacing, and the city’s Street Capital Fund has set aside $305,000.

Another effort underway downtown is the Urban Market. “The project is moving forward at a rapid pace,” said Fowler.

Demolition of the buildings on the 3.5-acre site along Ionia Avenue near Wealthy Street has begun. A preliminary design of streetscape improvements around the site is done, and a contract for the work will be bid in April and awarded in May. That work is expected to take four months to complete.

The DDA also agreed last week to put Pioneer Construction in charge of taking the contaminated soil from the property to an approved landfill. The board will use a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to pay for that effort. Pioneer was chosen because it is overseeing the market’s construction and has a lengthy history of handling toxic soil.

The market, roughly a $30 million project, is expected to open in summer 2013.

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