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 December 11, 2019, and took the following action:

Approved the sale of property to the City of Grand Rapids

The Board approved the sale of DDA-owned property to the City of Grand Rapids for extension and construction of the Ottawa Avenue from Oakes Street NW to Cherry Street NW in the Heartside neighborhood.

The street project is a key transportation improvement facilitated through the development agreement associated with Studio Park, the mixed-use entertainment, residential and office building nearing completion south of Van Andel Arena. Consistent with the terms of the agreement, the developer constructed the street and turned it over to the City for dedicated public right of way.

With the DDA’s approval, the City Commission will consider authorizing payment of $529,774.68 to finalize the sale at their December 17, 2019 meeting.

Authorized retail incubation support for three new Downtown businesses

The Board accepted the staff recommendation to support the establishment of three new Downtown businesses: GRNoir Wine & Jazz, Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine and Oh, Hello Co. Paper & Gifts.

GRNoir Wine & Jazz, proposed by Nadia and Shatawn Brigham, is a wine and jazz room that will open at 35 South Division Ave. The DDA Board approved a resolution authorizing staff to prepare a written contract with GRNoir for an amount not to exceed $21,164.97 and a period of time not to exceed 18 months to help underwrite a portion of lease fees.

Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine, proposed by Gilma and Edward Dela Cruz, will provide a unique culinary option to the Downtown community through authentic made-from-scratch Caribbean food and culture. The business grows out of the success of the El Caribe Food Truck, which has spent the past year cultivating a customer base in Downtown and West Michigan. Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine will locate at 57 Monroe Center. The DDA Board approved a resolution authorizing staff to prepare a written contract with Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine for an amount not to exceed $36,000 and a period of time not to exceed 18 months to help underwrite a portion of lease fees.

Oh, Hello Co. is an interactive gift shop that specializes in Grand Rapids-themed products. Originally a greeting card company, Oh, Hello. Stationery has grown into stationery, planners and other related products. The company now ranks among the top 5% of sellers on the popular e-commerce website Oh, Hello Co. will locate at 40 Monroe Center and offer workshops, tutorials and seminars supporting other entrepreneurs and artists. The DDA Board approved the resolution authorizing staff to prepare a written contract with Oh, Hello. Co for an amount not to exceed $20,312.76 and a period of time not to exceed 18 months to help underwrite a portion of lease fees.

The Downtown Development Authority’s Retail Incubation Program, launched in 2018, is designed to help advance on numerous Downtown goals, including:

  • Supporting entrepreneurship and small business growth
  • Supporting the activation of vacant retail space.
  • Diversifying the mix of Downtown retail offerings

The program supports creative strategies and partnerships that effectively and measurably advance on the community’s goal of growing a thriving Downtown retail market. Past recipients of funding include Tamales Mary, Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge, and Mosby’s Popcorn.

Authorized funding to Assess the Economics of Place

The Board approved support for an in-depth study of the economic, fiscal and social equity performance of urban walkable places throughout the City of Grand Rapids. The DDA will engage a team led by land use strategist Chris Leinberger to conduct an ‘economics of place’ assessment that will include, but is not limited to, the following activities:

  • A complete inventory of the real estate in the City.
  • Analysis and mapping of that real estate to identify where it is located on the form/function matrix established in the 2015 WalkUp Wake Up report.
  • An in-depth analysis of the City’s real estate to better understand the performance across the forms and locations - including trends over the past three real estate cycles dating back to 1980.
  • A breakdown of “place-based GDP” to understand the fiscal contributions of all the City’s neighborhoods to the City.
  • An analysis of social equity performance of all City neighborhoods across indicators such as percent of income spent on housing and transportation, as well as proximity to jobs.
  • An identification of the gross fiscal revenues generated for the City by the various form and function types. This analysis will also consider the capital and operating costs of infrastructure and services and will illustrate the current net fiscal impact for each form and function type.
  • Scenario forecasting that will allow for a detailed understanding of economic value, net fiscal impact and social equity performance of proposed and future development throughout the City.

Leinberger’s recent work, including the 2014 Foot Traffic Ahead, the 2015 Walk Up Wake Call and Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown, all delivered unique and valuable information that’s helped to guide recent Downtown planning, economic development and investment decisions.

The resulting data and findings will help to inform a variety of current and future planning and economic development initiatives in and around Downtown Grand Rapids, including the revitalization of the Grand River corridor, the Housing Needs Assessment and future DDA real estate considerations. The DDA approved an amount not to exceed $225,000 to support the study and various supporting activities and engagement efforts. The work will happen over 2020 Q1 and Q2.

Appointed a New Board Chair

The Board appointed Rick Winn to serve as Chair. Mr. Winn, President of AHC+ Hospitality, succeeds Brian Harris, who joined the DDA in 2009. Mr. Winn joined the DDA in 2013 and served as vice-chair of the Board since 2017.