The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is a funding tool Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) administers to help catalyze public and private investment in Grand Rapids’ urban core. The DDA Board met August 14, 2019, and took the following action:

Authorized Staff to Engage Grand River Governance Consulting Services

The DDA Board accepted the staff recommendation to engage the consultant team of HR&A and Kathy Blaha Consulting in support of work now underway to design a governance structure and funding strategy for developing, managing and sustaining the public assets associated with revitalizing the Grand River corridor through Downtown Grand Rapids.

Given the complexity of the project, DGRI and community partners in June 2019 issued a call for qualified consultants. DGRI staff in July 2019 reviewed and evaluated seven RFQ responses with the GR Forward Goal 1 Citizen Alliance and the Organizational Leadership Committee spearheading the river governance conversation.

A team comprised of HR&A Advisors and Kathy Blaha Consulting emerged as the strongest team with the expertise and experience required to support this process.

HR&A is a leading real estate and economic development consultancy and a recognized authority on successful strategies to plan, organize and implement transformative city-building initiatives. They have an accomplished portfolio of urban industrial reuse projects and come recommended by peer organizations/cities. The firm also comes with the familiarity of the local context, having supported the development of the City’s 2017 Parks and Recreation Master Plan and through their current work on the City’s Equitable Economic Development and Mobility Strategic Plan.

Kathy Blaha Consulting has worked with cities and parks partners across the country to design and implement forward-thinking plans for parks governance and management. She recently worked with the Frey Foundation, the City and DGRI to develop the Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle Conservancy to enhance the management of that space.

The team will provide valuable service and insights into the governance and funding study. Deliverables will include a series of memos that detail:

  • A thorough analysis of governance options and rationale for a preferred alternative to realize the vision for a restored, revitalized and high-performing Grand River corridor.
  • A proposed multi-year capital plan to implement the community’s River for All vision.
  • A proposed funding plan to build, manage and maintain the new riverfront amenity.
  • The estimated economic benefits of building the riverfront amenity.

With DDA approval, DGRI staff next will hone the project schedule and budget with the consultant team. Both the DDA and the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority budgeted FY20 funds to support this work.

Approved Funding to Test a “Transit Bulb”

The DDA Board approved funding to install a “transit bulb” on Fulton Street near the Sheldon Street intersection at one of the busiest stops in the Rapid’s regional transit network.

Transit bulbs extend the sidewalks out at transit stops to improve the overall experience for people using transit. The bulbs provide more space to wait and easier access to the vehicle as it arrives. They also increase operational efficiency because the transit vehicle does not have to pull over to the curb and then back out into traffic.

Installing the temporary transit bulb will enable Downtown place managers and local mobility professionals to test and measure the impact of the changes without the cost of completely redesigning or rebuilding the street.

The interim bulb can also be picked up and moved to other locations to further test the viability of installation at other stops. The intent is to pilot the installation at this location for at least one year. Similar tests have proven largely successful in such cities as Pittsburgh, Oakland and New York City.

This project flows from a series of community planning initiatives - including the City of Grand Rapids’ Vital Streets Plan, GR Forward and DGRI’s recent Streetspace Guidelines - all of which prioritized efforts to deliver safer, more comfortable experiences for people who walk, ride bicycles and take transit. Key partners include the City of Grand Rapids, the Rapid transit agency and DGRI.

The partners selected the Zicla Bus Platform to install and test in Downtown Grand Rapids. The platform is made of 100% recycled plastic, is easy to assemble and disassemble and meets ADA requirements. The partners will procure the platform through a locally-owned company, Conceptual Site Furnishings, who will furnish and install the platform through an agreement with the City. Deployment is anticipated in Fall 2019.

The total project budget is not to exceed $75,000, which includes the platform as well as additional amenities such as seating, benches, planters and potentially a shelter structure.

Authorized Funding to Reconstruct Division Avenue South

The DDA Board approved funds to support the reconstruction of Division Avenue South from Cherry to Wealthy Streets. The two-year project - anticipated to begin in Spring 2020 - aims to significantly enhance one of Downtown’s most important street corridors as a safer, more walkable place for people.

The coming improvements, designed through a collaboration of the City of Grand Rapids and DGRI, will include:

  • New 8-foot wide center median with no-mow turf that replaces the existing 11-foot left turn lane in several locations where it’s become obsolete.
  • Narrowing travel lanes from 13-feet wide to 12-feet wide.
  • Increasing sidewalk space on both sides of the street from 12.5 feet to 15 feet.
  • Maintaining on-street parking.
  • Installing new crosswalks and mid-street “refuges” for people walking.
  • New bulb-outs at intersections to decrease pedestrian crossing distance at intersections and provide space for landscaping.
  • Street tree plantings on both sides of the street with irrigation in the sidewalk planters.
  • Landscape and seat walls along the sidewalks.
  • Street lights to match the recently installed street lights north of Cherry.
  • Bike racks and transit shelters.

The full reconstruction also includes new utilities and fully reconstructed roadbed and sidewalks.

The total project budget is $4,608,000 and will include construction cost, plus administration services by Moore & Bruggink, City engineering administration and fees and a 12% construction contingency. The DDA share of funding is $638,000 or approximately 14% of the overall cost, allocated over Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.

The DDA approved funding for $310,000 in the Fiscal Year 2020 and committed to the intent to prioritize the additional $328,000 for Fiscal Year 2021, pending budget approvals next year.

Authorized Funding for Interactive Art Installation

The DDA Board approved funding to host a Prismatica installation in Downtown Grand Rapids in winter 2020.

Prismatica was created by Toronto-based design firm RAW Design and first exhibited in Montreal. Since then, installations have appeared in Detroit, Georgetown, Baltimore, London, and other cities around the world.

Prismatica is a collection of light prisms that have toured the world, adding energy and creativity to urban business districts. The interactive installation includes 25 pivoting prisms, creating a modern ice palace that transmits and reflects color and light. As the prisms rotate, a soundtrack of bells plays in the background.

Downtown Grand Rapids will host Prismatica in a yet-to-be-determined location for four weeks starting in mid-January 2020. The project is part of DGRI’s overarching strategy to activate public spaces during the cold-weather months and make Grand Rapids a better winter city. The Board approved an expenditure not to exceed $55,000 to host the installation and related activities.

Authorized Negotiations with Olsen Loeks Development for DDA-Owned Land

The DDA Board authorized DGRI staff and legal counsel to negotiate the terms of a Letter of Understanding with Olsen Loeks development for the potential sale of DDA-owned property at 158 Oakes Street SW. The 40,000 sq ft property sits immediately adjacent to the Studio Park now under construction south of Van Andel Arena.

DGRI in May 2019 issued a Request for Proposals to solicit and identify interest in the property. Three proposals were received and considered. The Olsen Loeks proposal includes 175,000 square feet of Class A office building and new parking supply that support the move of several hundred new jobs from outside the City into Downtown Grand Rapids.

With Board authorization, DGRI staff will order an up-to-date appraisal of the property and develop a Letter of Understanding with the prospective developer.