The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board of Directors today sent the Grand Rapids City Commission a $14.9 million budget recommendation for the fiscal year 2022 that outlines investments to, among other actions, support reignition of the Downtown business districts amidst the ongoing pandemic, advance efforts to revitalize the Grand River corridor and build safer and more people-friendly streets and public spaces.

The DDA budget is prepared by the staff of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., in consultation with DGRI’s Citizen Advisors, a group of 90 local residents who embody the diversity of the region across age, gender, race, sexual orientation and other distinguishing factors of difference.

“Downtown continues to weather the negative effects of COVID so this budget intentionally focuses on setting and supporting the course for resetting the Downtown economy and quality of life,” said Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. President/CEO Tim Kelly.

“By ramping up efforts to, among other things, enhance outdoor public spaces and drive foot traffic with safe and inclusive events and activities we will work to mitigate the longer-term consequences that now confront Downtown businesses and residents.”

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) is the organization responsible for city building and place management in Downtown Grand Rapids, which anchors one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation. DGRI manages several economic development tools in the urban core, including the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, which leverages public and private investment in the central city.

Working in partnership with the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools and dozens of other partners, DGRI engaged thousands of citizens to define GR Forward, a 10-year growth strategy that outlines the city building goals and investment priorities for Downtown Grand Rapids. The City Commission in 2015 unanimously adopted GR Forward as an amendment to the City Master Plan.

The DDA’s recommended FY22 budget commits approximately $12.8 million to support the plan’s implementation.

Specifically, the GR Forward-recommended actions supported by the budget include, but are not limited to:

  • Reconstructing and significantly enhancing Lyon Square.
  • Piloting pop-up retail spaces to help enliven public spaces and lower the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs.
    Rehabilitating Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle.
  • Pedestrian safety improvements at several key intersections.
  • Repairing riverfront trail sections at Fish Ladder Park and the base of the Blue Bridge.
  • Designing river edge improvements at the Public Museum and GVSU Seidman College of Business.
  • Installing a second “Portland Loo” near Van Andel Arena. The first was installed in 2020 on Division Ave.
  • Deploying the phase one of a new Downtown wayfinding system to support a positive visitor experience.
  • Designing “Switchback Park” to better connect Belknap Hill, Monroe North, the Grand River and Downtown.
  • Installing a second “transit bulb” to enhance access to the Rapid bus. The first was installed near Fulton/Sheldon.
  • Continuing to plant and maintain trees to grow a healthy canopy.

The budget continues investment to produce and support special events, public art and other interventions that build a more welcoming and inclusive neighborhood, serve a diversity of audiences and strengthen community ties in and to Downtown.

The budget also continues investment in several initiatives started up during the previous year, including the incubation of an organizational strategy to help lead Grand River corridor revitalization, implementation of the Heartside Quality of Life recommendations, continued cultivation of the Downtown Neighbor Network and a variety of improvements to continue making Downtown more bicycle-friendly.

More generally, the proposed FY22 expenditures organize approximately in the following priority areas:

  • $4.6 million to advance on GR Forward Goal 1 - Restoring the Grand River as the draw to the city, county and region.
  • $1.7 million to advance on GR Forward Goal 2 - Developing a true Downtown neighborhood home to a diverse population.
  • $2.3 million to advance on GR Forward Goal 3 - Implementing a 21st-century mobility strategy.
  • $535,000 to advance on GR Forward Goal 4 - Growing more and better jobs and ensuring the continued vitality of the local economy.
  • $3.8 million to advance on GR Forward Goal 5 - Reinvesting in public space, culture and inclusive programming.

The FY22 budget also covers the final debt service payment on Van Andel Arena. The budget continues to pay down debt on DeVos Place Convention Center and the reconstruction of Ionia Street south of Wealthy Street.

DGRI staff will present the proposed DDA budget for City Commission on April 27, 2021. If approved, the budget will come back to the DDA Board for final adoption in May.

The DDA Board also took the additional following actions:

Authorized Funds for Community Engagement

The Board approved funding to develop a comprehensive community engagement program that will support and guide the startup of a nonprofit entity currently organizing to help lead the revitalization of the Grand River Corridor.

DGRI staff will partner with Public Agency and their Community Catalysts to support this work. The Community Catalyst program is a diverse network of rising and established local resident leaders who, among other things, design and facilitate innovative approaches to public engagement.

The overarching goal of this effort is to ensure the forthcoming river-focused nonprofit, its future work and, by extension, the substantial collaborative effort required to revitalize the Grand River corridor from Riverside to Millennium Parks is people-centered, place-based and reflects the commitment to re-animating a river for all Grand Rapidians.

The Board approved funding not to exceed $110,000.

Authorized Support for the Heartside Historic Mural Program

The Board authorized funds to install four new murals, produce four walking tours and one virtual tour all to honor and share the rich local history within the Heartside neighborhood.

Dwelling Place and DGRI staff will partner in the effort, which is guided by a steering committee of local businesses, residents and artists.

The Board approved funding for the project not to exceed $43,310.

Approved Funding to Design Safer Streets

The Board approved funding for professional services to design a series of pedestrian and bicycle safety and access improvements across the Downtown neighborhood, including:

  • Enhanced pedestrian crossings at the intersection of Division Avenue and Crescent and Cherry Street under US 131,
  • Reconfiguring Wealthy & Front to make the streets safer for people, increase connectivity and better accommodate more mobility options,
  • A separated bicycle facility along North Division from Cresent to Leonard, and
  • A separate bicycle facility along Century/Ellsworth from Pleasant to Grandville Ave.

Mobile GR and DGRI staff will partner to advance the work. Deployment of all proposed improvements is expected in 2022 or 2023.

The Board approved funding for these projects not to exceed $122,500.

Approved Funding to Enhance Downtown Social Zones

The Board authorized funding to beautify the 147 currently gray and uninspiring concrete barriers currently demarking the Downtown social zones with public art.

DGRI staff will partner with local art gallery Lions & Rabbits and local artists to execute the work.

The Board also approved funding to purchase additional tables, chairs and umbrellas to accommodate the expansion of the social zone program.

DGRI and the City of Grand Rapids established recovery social zones in the summer of 2020 to make more public space available for Downtown businesses to operate during the pandemic. The expansion of outdoor dining areas has been especially popular and successful.

The Board approved funding not to exceed $32,866.82 for outdoor patio furniture and $47,620 to beautify the concrete barriers.

Supported the Restoration of the Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle

The Board approved funds to help restore Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle. Improvements will include but are not limited to removing the old cast stone material seating area and replacing with more durable and beautiful granite, replacing iron cladding on the bandshell and bathrooms and installing new lighting, drinking fountain and other furnishings.

The renovation is estimated to cost approximately $2.8 million and the DDA Board approved funding not to exceed $550,000. With the DDA’s support, the request now proceeds to the City Commission for consideration of additional funding. Private donations raised by the Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle Conservancy will also help fund the improvements.

Construction is expected to start in May 2021 and the park is scheduled to reopen in September.