Street Talk: DDA covets all the neighbors

The Downtown Development Authority board is once again pushing the boundaries.

At the Nov. 9 DDA board meeting, the organization voted to approve an amendment to the DDA Development and TIF Plan, which would amend the newly proposed District O boundary to include properties that overlap with the Southtown Corridor Improvement District.

The new boundary adds about two city blocks to the expanded DDA boundary, stretching eastward to include Sheldon Avenue at the south boundary along Logan Street. The overlap with the Southtown CID won’t result in any additional tax capture for the DDA but will enable the organization to partner with the Southtown CID on future building initiatives.

The updated resolution will be considered at a Dec. 6 public hearing and considered by the City Commission either that day or Dec. 13.

The DDA also authorized contracting a bike share feasibility analysis, stemming from a GR Forward recommendation, as the first step in bringing bike sharing to Grand Rapids.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. issued a request for proposal in late September and settled on Chicago-based Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants to conduct the analysis and develop a strategic business plan. The cost of the analysis is not to exceed $100,000, with the DDA covering 30 percent of the bill and the city footing the remainder.

Finally, the DDA approved a Building Reuse Incentive Program grant for $72,486.50 to 438 Bridge St. NW. Owner David Reinert is planning to renovate the existing building’s ground floor to fit Butcher’s Union, a 4,800-square-foot bar and restaurant scheduled to open later this fall.

Funds from the BRIP grant will help cover the costs of barrier-free improvements, fire suppression, façade enhancements and sustainable design elements. The total project costs are estimated at nearly $1.26 million.

Drink up, stay well

Good news for residents of Beer City USA: that other necessary beverage (which also makes up about 90 to 95 percent of Grand Rapids’ tastiest export) is among the safest in the state.

According to a report released by the city Nov. 4, lead levels in drinking water from the Grand Rapids Water System are at four parts per billion, putting the city in the 90th percentile and well below the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s action level of 15 parts per billion.

On the morning the report was released, Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh happened to be in Grand Rapids, speaking as part of the Health Forum of West Michigan’s panel discussion on municipal infrastructure and health. Creagh previously had served as interim head of the DEQ, following the resignation of former director Dan Wyant.

Creagh spoke at length about the infrastructure and government oversight that resulted in the Flint water crisis, noting the entire country should pay special notice to the lessons that could be learned in Flint.

“Don’t be tone deaf,” Creagh cautioned the audience. “Because sometimes, there’s something else with the infrastructure you need to pay attention to.”

Also taking part in the panel was Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong and Kent County Health Department Environmental Health Division Director Eric Pessell.

DeLong gave a detailed presentation on the improvements in Grand Rapids’ water quality since 1997, when the city’s lead levels were at 11 parts per billion. He noted the city has about 19,000 lead service lines of the total 80,000 service lines that run water to the city.

In maintaining safe water lines, DeLong said the city already has taken some lessons from Flint in knowing to consistently flood galvanized pipes with phosphates to keep those safe levels.

“If you stop doing it, bad things can happen,” DeLong said.

Crash course paying off for bikers

A federally funded bicycle safety campaign is yielding high returns.

The city of Grand Rapids reported this month that the Driving Change campaign is “dramatically reducing crashes.”

The numbers show fatal or serious-injury crashes in Grand Rapids were reduced from 11 in 2015 to 2 in 2016 for the same five-month reporting period of May through September.

The two fatal/serious crashes between May and September is an 81 percent decrease and the lowest total in Grand Rapids since 2010, which is the only other time the number of fatal or serious-injury crashes has been that low. 

Total crashes involving bicyclists decreased by more than 40 percent from 2015 to 2016 for the same five-month reporting period.

The city said improvements in Grand Rapids are “especially significant,” given the city has historically had Michigan’s second-highest crash rates.

“The data we are reporting today supports the decision by Mayor (Rosalyn) Bliss and the Grand Rapids City Commission last year to adopt new bicycle travel-related ordinances that better protect public safety, including pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists,” said David Rahinsky, city of Grand Rapids police chief.

He said based on Year 1 results, he’s “confident” implementing and continuing this education effort is “vital” to reducing the frequency and severity of bicycle crashes.

The Driving Change campaign, which kicked off May 9 and continued through Sept. 30, coincides with Grand Rapids’ adoption of a “safe passing” ordinance last year that went into effect in 2016.

The law requires motorists keep at least five feet between the right side of their vehicle and the bicyclist they are passing, and the city also requires bicycles for night riding be equipped with a white light on the front and a red reflector or light on the rear.

Reassessing security assessments

The Michigan Small Business Development Center wants to ensure local businesses do all they can to protect themselves from hackers, especially as technology evolves.

During the past few months, it has been working with private IT firms across the state to update an initiative it first launched in December 2015: Small Business, Big Threat, an online assessment at

The Q&A-format quiz evaluates small businesses on their cyber security risks and then matches them with immediate feedback and a list of resources to consult for further action.

Six months ago, the MSBDC also worked with its partners to launch a Spanish-language version of the assessment.

According to Jennifer Deamud, COO of MSBDC, the updates the quiz needs include a re-evaluation of the questions to make sure they still are relevant to the threats small businesses face.

“It will help those who have taken the assessment reassess where they stand,” said Hanna Burmeister, marketing manager of MSBDC. She added the assessment will be evaluated on how many businesses have used it.

“We need to look at the analytics to make sure (the program is) continuing to grow,” she said.

Zara Smith, strategic programs manager at MSBDC, said in the remainder of 2016 and heading into 2017, the Small Business, Big Threat program is poised for growth.

“(We will be) expanding content to include government contracting requirements going in effect by the end of 2017, refining content to include more industry-specific material and to ‘freshen up’ the questionnaire, exploring additional partnership and opportunities to reach an even wider audience in Michigan and assisting other SBDCs in launching the program in other states.” 

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