The Grand Rapids City Commission tonight approved an updated financing plan for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) that supports the community’s vision of an increasingly more vibrant Downtown with a revitalized Grand River corridor, high-quality parks, more mobility and housing options and increasing economic opportunity for people from all walks of life.

The approval comes one day after the Grand Action Committee released the findings of the Grand Rapids Destination Asset Study (PDF). The study recommends, among other things, leveraging the Grand River as a unique natural asset, expanding outdoor recreation opportunities and growing Downtown transportation options to help elevate Grand Rapids and Kent County as a top-tier destination in America.

“We now have multiple community plans and studies converging around a core set of priorities for the next generation of growth for Downtown Grand Rapids,” said Kristopher Larson, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., which administers the DDA on behalf of the people of metro Grand Rapids. “The DDA’s plan and financial tool is now in a position to support real action on these clear community priorities and help take our city to the next level.”

The DDA, a funding tool designed to help catalyze public and private investment in Grand Rapids urban core, has helped leverage more than $4.5 billion to revitalize and grow Downtown Grand Rapids, which now anchors the sixth fastest growing metro area in America.

The DDA’s Development and Tax Increment Finance Plan, required by state law, establishes the purposes and practices which guide how the DDA collects and uses revenues to catalyze investment in its district. The plan must be approved by City Commission and, among other things, identify the boundary of the district and estimate the financial effect on taxing jurisdictions such as Kent County, Grand Rapids Community College and the Rapid regional transit authority.

The DDA financing plan was first approved in 1980 and since then has experienced 15 updates, most recently in 2007. The approved updated plan (PDF) aligns the DDA funding tool with GR Forward, the community vision and investment strategy adopted in December 2015 by the Grand Rapids City Commission as an amendment to the City’s Master Plan.

The updated Plan was developed in close consultation with such partners and stakeholders as Kent County, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Community College, the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority as well as the Southtown, Westside and North Quarter Corridor Improvement Districts.

The Downtown Development Authority Board in October 2016 recommended City Commission approval of the updated plan.

Key Changes Approved

In addition to basic city building and place management activities, the updated Plan includes four targeted boundary expansions to enable the DDA to more actively advance the recommendations and goals of GR Forward. More specifically:

    • Boundary expansion along the Grand River would permit the DDA to consider partnering in riverfront trail building and other activities that restore the river as the central amenity in the urban core.
    • Boundary expansion to the north would permit the DDA to consider partnering in the development of a linear park on Ionia Avenue and Switchback Park on the western face of Belknap Hill.
    • Boundary expansion to the west would permit the DDA to consider partnering in the development of Interchange Park under 131 and the Ford Freeway.
    • Boundary expansion to the south would permit the DDA to consider partnering in redevelopment adjacent to the Downtown Market.

The updated Plan affirms the DDA’s commitment to building a more diverse and welcoming Downtown. The Plan, for example, allows the DDA to support efforts that foster more racially and ethnically diverse business ownership. The Plan also expressly enables the DDA to, for the first time, prioritize investment in affordable housing to deliver a wider range of residential choices for people with different needs and budgets.

The updated Plan also upholds the community’s commitment to advance good government reform of the DDA tool. The Plan, for example, continues and aims to ramp up the DDA’s gain sharing program that provides annual financial rebates to taxing jurisdictions that partner in improving and growing Downtown.

Another provision directs the DDA to forego the capture of “special” voter-approved property taxes, including the Kent County millages for seniors, veterans and any special millages after November 7, 2016, including the recent zoo and museum millage.

“Voters don’t go to the polls to raise taxes for DDA’s,” Larson said. “They go to the polls to consider the merits of specific investments in our children, veterans, senior citizens, emergency services or the specifically defined community priority of the day. Eliminating DDA capture of these special voter-approved initiatives is simply the right thing to do.”

Michigan lawmakers are now are considering legislation to, among other things, eliminate the ability of DDA’s to capture special millages. Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. supports these efforts in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

To continue advancing on key local city building priorities, the Grand Rapids DDA will begin drafting its Fiscal Year 2018 budget in the first quarter of 2017.