As part of the $9.7 million Downtown Development Authority budget proposed last week, Grand Rapidians could see makeovers of at least four underpasses, the conversion of part of Ionia Avenue NW to a bike-friendly street, and more green spaces.
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. presented the Downtown Development Authority board of directors with its proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 on Wednesday. DGRI is a nonprofit organization that provides administrative services for the DDA, Downtown Improvement District and Monroe North TIFA.
After a brief discussion, mostly highlighting the merits of the relationship between DGRI and the DDA and the public involvement component the organization has created, the DDA board approved the budget, which includes $4.9 million in discretionary spending and approximately $4.7 million to satisfy ongoing obligations.
The proposed budget will now go on to the Grand Rapids City Commission for consideration on Tuesday, May 26.
Primary revenue sources included in the budget are a $3.8 million fund balance carried over from 2015, $2.1 million in proceeds from the sale of Parking Area 1, $4.8 million in anticipated revenue from increasing property values and new growth, and $540,000 in estimated proceeds from property rental, sponsorships, interest and revenues from DDA-owned parking lots.
Based on the proposed budget, the DDA plans to invest $3.1 million in public realm and infrastructure improvements, $3.3 million in real estate incentives and acquisition, $750,000 for special events, promotions and workforce support initiatives, and $415,000 for downtown beautification, safety and mobility.
The proposed DDA budget includes 98 capital projects, programs, events and other investments, with 56 of those stemming from the GRForward planning initiative, which is expected to conclude with a final plan later this summer.
DDA president and CEO Kristopher Larson highlighted a number of the projects on tap for the coming year, including: rerouting the Downtown Area Shuttle, also known as DASH, to better serve residents and workers; revamping Lyon Square on the riverfront near the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel; installing festoon lighting over the entertainment district along Ionia Avenue SW; expanding diversity and inclusion initiatives to continue establishing a more welcoming downtown; establishing a running and walking trail that connects the Michigan Street corridor to downtown; planning for a local bike share system; establishing Pearl Street around U.S. 131 as a pedestrian-friendly gateway to downtown; and creating pedestrian-friendly highway underpasses.
In addition to the Pearl Street underpass that is slated to receive a $225,000 investment, Larson said the Bridge, Cherry and Monroe street underpasses are also on tap to undergo “humanizing” treatments that will make them more appealing and pedestrian-friendly as part of an effort to reconnect the downtown communities on each side of the underpasses.
Actual designs have not been created yet, but Larson shared some images from other cities that have used lighting and interesting visual images to make their underpasses more vibrant and appealing.
The GRForward process has revealed residents’ desire for a greater connection to the Grand River. In one of the first efforts to provide that enhanced connection, the DDA plans to provide financial support to connect Canal Street Park with Leonard Street. The quarter-mile project runs along the river’s edge in the Monroe North area.
Lyon Square is slated for a $200,000 makeover that will provide more river-viewing opportunities and the creation of an events plaza with outdoor dining space. The expected public-private partnership would cover 2,600 square feet of event space and 1,300 square feet of space for tables.
Larson said at this point it’s unknown how much of the space would be open to the public and how much of it would be part of the new Wolfgang Puck concept restaurant going into the Amway Grand Plaza this fall.
Ionia Avenue NW, beginning at Crescent Street, will undergo a pilot program that Larson said would turn it into one of the most bicycle-friendly streets in the city. The proposal calls for creating a single lane one-way street with a separate bikeway, which would be protected from traffic by a parking lane.
One program expected to see a decrease in DDA funding is the successful Downtown Ambassador program. Larson noted the decrease is a result of the Downtown Improvement District’s plan to provide $150,000 of the funding for that program. The DDA will provide $225,000. In total, the program will receive more money and be able to expand its hours of operation.
Larson noted 94 percent of the dollars included in the discretionary spending category would go to projects prioritized by Grand Rapids citizens, who are part of three alliances supporting the DDA’s work.
“Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood, and we value the citizen voice in all our decision-making,” Larson said.
“We intentionally delegate authority to citizens and, in return, we get a stronger democracy, higher transparency and accountability for our organizational operations and better projects that respond to the community’s priorities.”
More than 60 individuals representing a variety of downtown stakeholders make up the three alliances: Alliance for Vibrancy, Alliance for Investment and Alliance for Livability.
“We’re providing a growing number of citizens an active voice in how we invest public dollars and we’re getting results,” Larson said.
“This budget is a clear and direct reflection of the goals and aspirations Grand Rapidians have for their downtown.”