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River work, downtown core top DDA budget

Panel is in fourth year of following GR Forward plan for improvements.

May 10, 2019
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The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority is moving forward on significant capital improvement projects, including the reconstruction of Calder Plaza, according to its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020.

The DDA recommended its budget for fiscal year 2020 to the Grand Rapids City Commission during its regular monthly meeting May 8.

As with previous fiscal years, budget expenses are broken down by the five GR Forward goals in both the local tax increment and nontax increment funds.

  1. Restore the river as a draw — $1,530,000

  2. Create a true downtown neighborhood home to a diverse population — $2,130,000

  3. 21st-century mobility strategy — $1,915,000

  4. Ensure job opportunities and vitality of the local economy — $500,000

  5. Reinvest in public space, culture and inclusive programming — $5,129,000

In accordance with Goal 5, additional funding was recommended to begin improvements of public spaces including Calder Plaza, Lyon Square, Van Andel Arena Plaza and the Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle.

Total projected expenditures are $11,204,000. This is across 82 programs, projects and other initiatives.

Other new projects proposed for FY2020 is a planning initiative to recommend a governance model for future river corridor improvements and reconstruction of Division Avenue from Cherry to Wealthy streets.

Carry-forward priorities from previous years include completing river trail improvements on Michigan and Bridge streets, finalizing improvements of downtown transit shelters, funding to grow the supply of affordable housing and working to deploy a public restroom in the Heartside neighborhood.

The total estimated available revenue from both local tax increment and nontax increment funding is about $17.6 million, compared to more than $18 million last year. Tim Kelly, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., said the drop is mainly due to a bond proceeds fund in FY2019.

There are no expenses tied to a sixth goal — to retain and attract families, talent and employers with high-quality public schools — but Kelly said DGRI constantly is in conversation with Grand Rapids Public Schools about ways it can participate.

This is the fourth full fiscal year where GR Forward has served as the DDA’s adopted master plan.

In related business, the DDA recommended approval for an updated memorandum of understanding for the city’s downtown shuttle services.

The memo outlines the terms and requirements for all parties involved in the financing of the DASH system. The DDA has partnered with the city and the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority on these memos since 2012.

For the current fiscal year, the DDA is contributing $99,994 and the MNTIFA is contributing just more than $80,000 to the DASH funding.

Under the new agreement, the DDA would contribute $270,000, the MNTIFA would contribute $80,000, and the city would offer up $2,340,000 for FY2020.

The increased funding from the DDA is a result of the effort to expand DASH services, including late night and weekend routes initiated in FY2019. The DDA, MNTIFA and the city also will look for additional partners to contribute to the enhanced services and help offset the cost.

Since expanding services, the DASH North ridership has increased by 95,323 boardings, a 246% increase over FY2018, according to city officials.

DGRI staff will present the recommended DDA FY2020 budget to the Grand Rapids City Commission on May 14. If commission approval is received, the DDA board will adopt the budget at its next scheduled meeting.

DDA budgets are funded through the local tax increment fund, nontax increment fund and school tax increment. Expenses include both new projects in GR Forward and carry-forward priorities that span multiple fiscal years.

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