The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is a funding tool that 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, the full recording of the live-streamed DDA Board meeting on May 11, 2022, is available on YouTube.

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

Adopted the FY2023 Budget

The Board adopted the $16.2 million budget for the fiscal year 2023 that outlines investments in, among other actions, continued work to create a more accessible and people-friendly Grand River Greenway, improvements to make Downtown streets and public spaces safer and more inviting and the activation of public spaces to make Downtown more welcoming to all Grand Rapids residents and visitors.

The DDA budget is prepared by the staff of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., in consultation with project partners and a diverse group of citizen advisors.

“Downtown activity continues to increase as we move past the worst days of the pandemic, and DGRI’s investments over the next year are intended to accelerate economic recovery and Downtown vitality,” said Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. President/CEO Tim Kelly.

“There is considerable momentum Downtown right now, and we’re optimistic that this is the beginning of a new phase of positive growth.”

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 FY23 budget commits approximately $14.4 million to support the plan’s implementation.

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

  • Supporting the creation of an equity-focused governance structure for the Grand River restoration process.
  • Reconstructing and significantly enhancing Lyon Square.
  • Supporting Grand River edge improvements, including critical sections of the future Grand River Greenway.
  • Retrofitting of Downtown Social Zones to improve accessibility.
  • Installing and maintaining bicycle parking and other mobility amenities.
  • Implementing a new Downtown wayfinding system.
  • Pedestrian safety and streetscape enhancements.
  • Supporting Downtown retail businesses.
  • Enhancing public spaces at Ah-Nab-Awen park and the Van Andel Arena alley.
  • Planning public space improvements on Belknap Hill and for the Grand River network.
  • 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 to Downtown.

The budget also includes gain sharing rebates issued to the City of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Grand Rapids Community College, and The Rapid (Interurban Transit Partnership). Gain sharing is a mechanism for the DDA to distribute a portion of funding back to partners that also capture property tax revenues in the district. As the work of DGRI increases Downtown property values over time, these gain sharing rebates will grow and provide increased funding back to these partners.

The proposed FY23 expenditures organize approximately in the following priority areas:

  • Goal 1 - Restore the River as the Draw: $4,757,500
  • Goal 2 - Create a True Downtown Neighborhood Home to a Diverse Population: $1,828,750
  • Goal 3 - 21st Century Mobility Strategy: $2,105,000
  • Goal 4 - Ensure Job Opportunities and Ensure Vitality of the Local Economy: $620,000
  • Goal 5 - Reinvest in Public Space, Culture and Inclusive Programming: $5,035,901

In addition to adopting the FY23 budget, the Board also:

Extended the DASH Transit Partnership

The Board approved a one-year partnership extension to support the DASH transit service around the Downtown neighborhoods. Supporting partners include the City of Grand Rapids and the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority. The City and DDA will revisit the agreement and assess any need for adjustments in the summer of 2023.

Funds were approved in an amount not to exceed $270,000 to support DASH transit service.

Approved Funding for Creative Services to Support River Nonprofit

The Board approved funding for professional creative services that support the startup of the nonprofit entity now emerging to help lead the execution of the community’s vision for a more attractive, accessible and active Grand River corridor.

Funds were approved in an amount not to exceed $120,000 to engage in a contract with Brand Robear for their creative services.

Authorized Funds for Grand River Greenway Project Organizing

The Board authorized funds to engage professional fundraising services in support of planning and organizing for the implementation of the Grand River Greenway initiative in the urban core of Grand Rapids/Kent County.

Funds were approved in an amount not to exceed $50,000 to engage Kennari Consulting to support Grand River Greenway investment organizing.

Authorized Funds for Beautification, Maintenance and Placemaking Contractual Services

The Board approved funds to extend the contract with Block by Block for their hospitality, beautification and maintenance contractual services through the FY2023.

Funds were approved in an amount not to exceed $281,410 to extend the contract as well as increase the existing Downtown Ambassador wage to $16.50 an hour and increase their vacation time to one week for all Ambassadors. This agreement is pending contract approval by the DGRI Board of Advisors.

Approved Funds to Install Transit Bulbs at Front Avenue & Wealthy Street

The Board approved funds for the installation of transit bulbs and related amenities at the Front Avenue and Wealthy Street transit stops.

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.

This will be the second installation of a Zicla transit bulb in Downtown. The first was funded by the DDA and installed on Fulton Street in November 2019.

Funds were approved in an amount not to exceed $85,000.

Supported a Liquor License Request for Noodlepig

The Board recommended approval of a Development Area Liquor License for Noodlepig, a new ramen and boba restaurant set to open this summer at 601 Bond Ave.

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

Approved Funds to Support the Heartside Historic Mural Program

The Board authorized funds to support the planning and execution of the Heartside Historic Mural program, which began in 2021 and - with DDA support - led to the creation of five new large murals in the Heartside district focused on honoring Black local history.

Funds were approved in an amount not to exceed $50,000 to add at least four new murals this summer with ribbon-cutting events and walking tours.

Approved Major Event Sponsorships

The Board approved funding for two major special events - ArtPrize and the Global Water Festival - to continue DGRI’s investment in public space activation and cultural and inclusive programming, which in turn drives foot traffic and opportunity for local businesses.

ArtPrize returns on September 15 and runs through October 2, 2022. The Board approved a $50,000 sponsorship.

The Global Water Festival - back for its second year - will take place on July 30, 2022, at Sixth Street & Canal Parks and utilize the Grand River to promote cultural programs such as dragon boat races, light and art, and local talent and vendors. The Board approved sponsorship of $35,000.