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 November 13, 2019, and took the following action:

Support for rehabilitating 111 Lyon and 200 Monroe NW

The Board authorized the execution of an agreement to help facilitate the rehabilitation and activation of two underutilized buildings at the corner of Lyon and Monroe streets.

The project, led by CWD Real Estate Investment, includes a major renovation of the old Michigan Consolidated Gas Building at 200 Monroe NW - currently underway and the future home of RDV Corp headquarters - and a phased renovation of the 111 Lyon Street building.

The first phase of the project will activate the ground floor retail space on the north side of Lyon Street and the second phase will include interior renovations to attract a new anchor tenant.

CWD and DGRI staff anticipate the redevelopment of both buildings will generate new retail and office jobs and pave the way for future job growth Downtown.

The Project will also include streetscape improvements and infrastructure improvements that will consist of the new sidewalks, landscaping, stairs, furniture and snowmelt.

Total capital investment for the Project is estimated at $139 million. DDA support will help to modernize elevators, install snowmelt in the adjacent sidewalks and add landscaping amenity. DDA support will not exceed $950,000 reimbursed over a period of seven years.

Support for liquor license approval

The Board recommended approval of a liquor license request for Gita Pita and Char restaurants located on Jefferson Ave. SE. With the DDA’s support, the request now proceeds to the City Commission for consideration.

Support for outdoor marketing in Monroe North district

The Board authorized funding for promotional banners along Monroe Ave NW from I-196 to Leonard street. The project, a partnership with the Monroe North Business Association, includes the purchase and installation of heavy-duty brackets and banner material, as well as replacement warranties, to ensure longer-lasting displays. The Board approved funding not to exceed approximately $19,516 to support the project.

Authorized a new parking agreement with YMCA

The Board authorized a revised agreement with YMCA for the DASH Area 8 that includes the following terms:

  • The cost of parking will be based on the surrounding market rate used in Areas 7 and 9, which is currently set at $48/space a month.
  • The term of the lease shall run for three years, with an option for either party to terminate upon 60 days’ notice.
  • The YMCA will partner with GVSU to identify shared parking opportunities for employee parking.
  • The YMCA will be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the lot during the term of the lease.
  • The YMCA will continue to participate in the Downtown Improvement District.

The DDA has leased 125 parking spaces in the DASH 8 lot to the YMCA since 2008. The spaces provide convenient automobile parking for customers of the YMCA’s David D. Hunting facility in Downtown Grand Rapids.

Authorized funding for the Retail Retention and Attraction Initiative

The Board approved funding for a Retail Retention and Attraction Initiative proposed by DGRI, the City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (GRACC) to develop a more proactive strategy for supporting and attracting retail to Downtown and neighborhood business districts.

The City Master Plan identifies vibrant and sustainable retail environments as a top community priority. The new Retail Retention and Attraction initiative’s aims to support retail entrepreneurs and businesses by among other activities:

  • Establishing a new Retail Recruitment Specialist position staffed at GRACC. The specialist will be tasked with identifying, attracting and retaining businesses by leveraging the expertise of local brokers, developers, real estate professionals, partner organizations and entrepreneur service organizations. They will also develop and maintain various databases and plans related to the retail market. The position will be filled by the end of 2019.
  • Conducting a Retail Market Study for Downtown and the City’s neighborhood business corridors. The study will include an inventory of available space, an examination of the current market, retail leakage analysis, growth projections and other relevant metrics.
  • Developing a strategic and collaborative plan of action to grow the local retail sector.

The effectiveness of the initiative will be based on the evaluation of such indicators as the number of existing retail businesses “assisted,” the number of new retail businesses recruited and reductions in first-floor vacancy rates in business districts.

The total budget for this work is $173,846. The DDA will contribute $60,000.

Approved funding to secure affordable housing

The Board approved funding for Dwelling Place to establish a Community Land Trust (CLT) and assist the rehabilitation of the Martineau Apartments.

The GR Forward process revealed considerable demand for growing and securing the overall supply of “affordable” housing in Downtown.

CLT’s is a mechanism that helps support and maintain long-term affordable homeownership opportunities in two key ways:

  • The CLT separates ownership of the land from the building/home, The CLT owns the land, the homeowner owns the home and any improvements to it. This eliminates the cost of land from the transaction with prospective buyers.
  • Resale of the home is restricted to CLT-approved buyers, and CLT-home sellers can recoup a limited amount of the home’s appreciation at the sale. This preserves affordable housing opportunities for new buyers while enabling residents to build equity through ownership.

The proposed CLT approach will focus on long-term affordable homeownership for the missing middle demographic (50% - 110% of the area median income); or those that are not low-income enough to qualify for a subsidy but also not earning enough to afford market-rate units Downtown.

Dwelling Place contracted with Burlington Associates to provide assistance in the development of a business plan to establish the CLT and convert several currently rental apartments into homeownership opportunities. The largest of these apartments is Martineau Apartments (23 units) on South Division. The DDA contribution to the project will not exceed $1000,000.

Support to pilot FUSE

The Board approved funding to support testing the Frequent User Systems Engagement, or FUSE, model to target supportive housing opportunities and help enhance the Division Ave South business district.

The FUSE model aims to break the cycles of incarceration, homelessness and heavy dependence on social services among individuals with complex behavioral and health challenges. The program specifically focuses on special assistance for “frequent users” of emergency room services, homeless shelters and other crisis service systems.

By focusing on more directly meeting the needs of this vulnerable population, the FUSE model aspires to stabilize and prepare individuals for more permanent housing opportunities while simultaneously reducing the significant public expense associated with frequent and heavy use of social services.

FUSE model intervention could also potentially help to improve the business environment in a neighborhood where public inebriation, public urination, untreated mental illness and substance abuse remain prevalent community issues.

Dwelling Place owns more than 300 permanent supportive housing units in the Heartside Neighborhood and enjoys strong relationships with social service providers and healthcare institutions, which makes the organization uniquely suited to test this new approach. The Board approved funding not to exceed $33,425 in support of the project.

Authorized the purchase of a new public restroom for Heartside

The Board approved funding to initiate the installment of a public restroom in the Heartside neighborhood.

The Heartside Neighborhood generally, and Division Avenue South specifically, lacks publicly available and accessible bathroom facilities, which has raised quality of life and public health issues for many years.

The 2018 Heartside Quality of Life Final Report clearly identified “provid(ing) additional restrooms available to the general public and expand public restroom options within Heartside” as a key recommendation.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and the City of Grand Rapids identified the Loo as the solution after extensive community conversation about the need for public restroom facilities in the Heartside area, including the Heartside Public Restroom Working Group, the GR Forward Goal 2 Citizen Alliance and numerous conversations with neighborhood businesses, residents, organizations and property owners.

The Portland Loo is a stand-alone public restroom facility that is highly durable and easy to maintain. The Loo design also prioritizes safety and has proven successful in similar climates, including Portland, Cincinnati and Vancouver.

The Loo will be installed at the intersection of Division Ave South and Weston (southeast corner), a location that provides ample space and lighting in a priority area lacking bathroom facilities. This location also offers clear sightlines that make the service clearly visible to a wide variety of people utilizing the sidewalk, including bar/restaurant-goers, transit commuters, homeless, residents, tourists, etc.

The Loo costs approximately $150,000 - $200,000 to purchase and install. The annual maintenance cost for a facility on Division Ave South is estimated in the range of $15,000 – $25,000. The DDA approved funds to purchase the Loo, and organize for installation, in an amount not to exceed $121,270.

DGRI staff is currently working with the City of Grand Rapids to finalize construction cost estimates and present the project to City Commission, which budgeted funds in the Fiscal Year 2020 to expand public restroom options in Heartside.

The goal is to have the Loo installed and open for use in Summer 2020.