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.

To maintain a high level of openness and transparency during the COVID-19 pandemic, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) will host all meetings on the virtual platform Microsoft Teams. This includes all DDA Board Meetings for the foreseeable future.

The full recording of the DDA Board meeting on April 8, 2020, is available on YouTube.

The Board met on this agenda and took the following action:

Supported liquor license requests for three Downtown establishments

The Board recommended approval of Development Area Liquor Licenses for three Downtown businesses:

  • Bold Premium Cigar Bar & Lounge on 144 East Fulton St.,
  • GRNoir Wine & Jazz on 35 South Division Ave.,
  • CJ Sisters doing business as 40 Pearl.

With the DDA’s support, the requests now proceed to the City Commission for consideration.

Authorized funding for Grandville Ave. Infrastructure Improvements

The Board authorized funding for new benches and trash cans on Grandville Ave. During a Fall 2019 audit of Downtown amenities, staff discovered that 2 benches and 3 trash cans needed significant repair. After a discussion with vendor Landscape Forum, whom the amenities were originally purchased from, it became clear that repair costs would exceed the purchase costs of new amenities. Staff recommended replacing the amenities with new ones rather than repairing the existing ones.

The Board approved $36,540 for the purchase of 5 benches and 12 litter cans to replace and upgrade the amenities on Grandville Ave.

Authorized Building a New Public Restroom in Heartside

The Board accepted the staff recommendation to engage Wyoming Excavators for site construction and installation of a public restroom on South Division Ave.

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

After extensive community conversation, the Board approved the purchase of the Portland Loo in November 2019.

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

On March 31, 2020, staff received 2 bids for site construction and, after thorough evaluation, recommended Wyoming Excavators to carry out construction and installation of the Loo.

Work will include:

  • Concrete curb and gutter removal and replacement
  • Removal and salvage of brick street pavers
  • Utility line installation and connections to the loo
  • Installation of concrete footings and base for the loo
  • Installation of the Portland Loo

The Loo will be installed at the southeast corner Division Ave South and Weston, a location that provides ample space and lighting in a priority area lacking bathroom facilities.

The total project budget is $127,786. The DDA’s share will not exceed $77,786. The City of Grand Rapids budgeted $50,000 for the project.

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

Authorized funding for the Downtown Ambassador Program

The DDA Board approved funding for the Downtown Ambassador Program for Fiscal Year 2021. The Ambassadors are the helping hands that keep Downtown clean, beautiful and friendly. Originally established in 2013, the Ambassador team play a key role in stewarding Downtown Grand Rapids.

Highlights of their 2019 work include planting 33,265 plants and flowers, cleaning up and recycling more than 442,990 cigarette butts off of Downtown streets and removing more than 21,133 bags of trash from the Downtown district.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ambassadors continue to carry out the essential work of persistently cleaning and disinfecting high-contact surfaces - railings, ATM machines, exterior door handles, etc. - in the Downtown neighborhood.

The DDA’s overall contribution to the Program is $222,000 in the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

Approved Short-Term Economic Relief Funding

The Board approved an emergency fund not to exceed $200,000 to empower staff with the flexibility to support near-term economic relief activities in response to the pandemic. To maintain transparency and accountability, the Board also appointed an oversight committee to help vet emergency response actions and monitor expenditures. The temporary measure is meant to enable staff to support recovery efforts that might arise prior to the full Board’s next meeting in May.

Recommended the FY2021 DDA Budget

The Board recommended the Fiscal Year 2021 budget that, among other things, includes $1,000,000 to support economic recovery efforts after the pandemic. The proposed budget, organized around the five goals of the GR Forward plan of action for Downtown, breaks down as follows:

  • Goal 1 - Restore the Grand River as the Draw: $1,775,000
  • Goal 2 - Create a True Downtown Neighborhood Home to a Diverse Population: $1,615,000
  • Goal 3 - Adopt a 21st Century Mobility Strategy: $2,880,000
  • Goal 4 - Ensure Job Opportunities and Ensure Vitality of the Local Economy: $1,485,000
  • Goal 5 - Reinvest in Public Space, Culture and Inclusive Programming: $3,540,000

Some key specific investments include but are not limited to support for:

  • Developing a strategic plan for the redevelopment of Westside parking areas 7, 8 and 9
  • Rehabilitation of the Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle public space
  • Renovation of the Van Andel Arena plaza
  • Incubating a new organizational strategy to support Grand River corridor revitalization
  • Implementing accessibility improvements as recommended by the Disability Advocates/Common Notice report
  • Installation of a stand-alone public restroom in Heartside
  • Repairs to the existing riverwalk along the east bank from Michigan Street to the Blue Bridge
  • Continued deployment of new shelters at Downtown transit stops

With the DDA Board’s recommendation, the budget now moves to the City Commission consideration, anticipated on April 28, 2020.