The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA) today endorsed the concept of a new downtown management partnership designed to establish stronger working relationships between the DDA, the Downtown Alliance (DA), the Downtown Improvement District (DID) and the City of Grand Rapids (City).

The goals of the new partnership – Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. – are to achieve greater alignment of the four organizations’ missions and strategies, eliminate redundancies, improve productivity and ultimately foster a more entrepreneurial approach to downtown development, marketing and management. Both the DA and DID boards endorsed the concept at their meetings earlier this month.

“We are becoming more united in our efforts to grow a vital, dynamic, competitive downtown” said DDA Chair Brian Harris. “This partnership model will strengthen our ability to strategically invest public funds, successfully maintain infrastructure and amenities, respond to new opportunities and plan for long-term success.”

This is a new model for collaboration, not a merger of downtown organizations. Partnership structures such as Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. are widely considered a “best practice” in the downtown management field. Many cities across the nation have established similar partnerships as a practical way to achieve more efficient management of downtown initiatives and improvements.

Under Grand Rapids’ new approach the participating partners agree to share board members, staff support and office space. The partners will establish common performance metrics and standards for return on investment accountability. They will unite behind a common marketing strategy for downtown. Each organization also will play a specific and more clearly defined essential role:

  • The Downtown Development Authority will manage the planning, expenditures, investment and administration of incremental property taxes collected from downtown properties. This includes project development, redevelopment incentives and public realm improvements.
  • The Downtown Alliance will serve as the advocate for downtown businesses and the manager of the downtown experience. This includes maintenance and beautification of downtown, as well as marketing, events and retail retention and recruitment.
  • The Downtown Improvement District, which collects and manages an additional property tax assessment voluntarily approved by downtown business owners, will fund the maintenance, beautification and other efforts to keep downtown clean and attractive.
  • Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., governed by a Board of representatives from each participating agency and the City, will serve as a convening and coordinating agency. More specifically, it will be responsible for shaping and keeping the vision for downtown, providing the staff and management services for each partner agency and coordinating all agency activities.

“The new organizational structure will take us to a new higher level and hopefully allow us to become one of the “best of class” among downtown organizations,” said Bob Herr, chair of the Downtown Improvement District. “I see many positives as a result, including improved return on investment for our stakeholders, better collaboration and communication and a single door for people to pass through to access multiple services.”

The idea of a new collaborative strategy was first recommended in the DDA’s 2010 Investment Framework. The DDA, DA, DID and the City in late 2011 convened a Partnership Committee to further explore and refine the concept. That committee recommended the Resolution to Endorse and Support the Creation of Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. approved today by the DDA board.

Implementation planning – which includes incorporating Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., establishing contracts between the participating partners, updating staff descriptions and determining a common office location – will begin after the DDA hires an executive director. The process is expected to take one year.

“We look forward to combining efforts with the Downtown Development Authority, the Downtown Improvement District and the City to make Downtown Grand Rapids the best place to visit, work, play and live,” said Bob Partridge, chair of the Downtown Alliance. “I know all of our organizations strive to have the very best downtown possible.”