On the west side Three isnt a crowd

July 21, 2012
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Even though it’s not a simple goal, three west-side business districts have decided to pursue a Corridor Improvement District, which would eventually allow the Stockbridge, West Fulton and West Leonard commercial sectors to capture taxes from improvements made in the corridor and use that revenue source for further enhancements.

To get to the point where the three are, the Stockbridge Business Association had to be revived after years of being dormant. City Commissioners Dave Schaffer and Walt Gutowski, County Commissioner Michael Wawee and his brother, Todd Wawee, led the effort to bring the association back. It held its first annual meeting in recent history last month; Todd Wawee, a businessman, presides over the group.

“He really worked pretty hard to get that thing going,” said Schaffer of Todd Wawee’s efforts. “They have a board and they held an annual meeting in June. They’re actually up and going and they’re looking to grow it.”

Before the three business associations can file the intricate plan for a single Corridor Improvement Authority and a single Corridor Improvement District, two of the associations have to put together an Area Specific Plan. The West Fulton business district has already done so; now it’s up to Stockbridge and West Leonard to complete one.

West Fulton filed its plan earlier this year with the SWAN Neighborhood Association. West Leonard and Stockbridge will file theirs as a single entity with the West Grand Neighborhood Association. But that is just the preliminary part of a more complicated and detailed plan.

“The area plan is basically zoning and land use, but what the corridor district will do is it will allow them to capture tax revenue to be spent within those boundaries. The thought behind getting three districts involved is similar to what they did in the East Hills area. They combined a few areas together,” said Schaffer, a vice president with Macatawa Bank who became involved with the Stockbridge district as a branch manager for Fifth Third Bank.

After the area plan is done, the business associations have to figure out what type of projects they want in their corridor and how each of the three districts will have an equitable bite of the apple, so to speak, when good things happen.

“I think when we actually set up the corridor district, we’ll probably have to put something into the by-laws that will allow for equal representation for each area. But the thought of going larger is to allow for enough representation on the board and also enough area of tax capture to allow, essentially, a larger project,” said Schaffer as to why the three are doing this together.

Schaffer said it took about 18 months to get the business associations to where the groups are today, which he added isn’t a typically lengthy amount of time to get such a grassroots effort to the point of moving forward, especially when fundraising is involved. “So, we’re still actively raising money, as well, to make sure that this gets finished,” he said.

Schaffer felt the business owners in each district are pretty much on board with pursuing the corridor plan, as all the associations voted to go after it. He also felt the owners were a tad more engaged in the process of putting together the Area Specific Plan, which Stockbridge and West Leonard are doing, but might not have a complete grasp of what needs to be done for the corridor plan.

“Yes, I think everyone is engaged, in that we have to do something about it and get organized to get together behind it. To be fair, if you asked somebody ‘what do you think this corridor district is going to do,’ I would think you’d get a lot of varied answers. I think you’d have that same response if you went back 30 years ago and asked the downtown businesses what they thought the DDA was going to do,” he said.

Grand Rapids city commissioners have authorized three Corridor Improvement Districts over the past several years, with the most recent being the North Quarter Improvement District. That district, like the one being pursued by the west-side businesses, is also comprised of separate northeast-side areas in Cheshire Village, Creston and a section of North Monroe. The other districts are in Uptown and Madison Square, which are both on the city’s southeast side.

“When you look back 30 years ago when the tax-increment financing was set up downtown, people probably had the same thoughts about downtown, its growth and its potential as they do for the west side right now. I see it as having a lot of potential and revitalization that can happen, and this is just one tool that we can use,” said Schaffer.

“A lot of the business folks I talk to say they want some infrastructure improvements put in place in order for them to really want to make this their new home. And I think that’s what we’re able to do through this process. This will allow for a funding source to put in some of that infrastructure that will hopefully attract more. If there is one message that I hope I bring out when I talk to businesses, it’s this is the tool for that.”

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