DDA pursuing development of key parcels


Van Andel Arena is one the top venues of its size in the country.

(As seen on WZZM 13 TV) It’s no secret that private development in the sector soared after the Downtown Development Authority and Grand Action Committee built Van Andel Arena.

As soon as the $75 million building opened almost 16 years ago at the corner of Fulton Street and Ottawa Avenue, it became an economic driver that launched a major series of redevelopment projects that lifted property values and brought life to a lackluster district.

The two organizations hope to provide the same result with the Downtown Market they’re building on 3.5 acres on Ionia Avenue near Wealthy Street, land the DDA purchased several years ago for $2 million. That indoor-outdoor project is slated to be done next summer and has already drawn interest from private developers.

But last week DDA members turned their attention back to the blocks immediately around the arena, specifically to three parking lots the board owns. Two are just south of Van Andel, while one is only a few steps west of it. Parking was never intended to be the permanent use for those sites.

When the DDA bought the parcels the board was “land banking” the properties for future development, and members agreed last week to take the next step to determine how those sites should be developed.

Board members authorized DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson to develop and issue a request for proposals from urban designers for a project called the South Arena Area Visioning and Development Strategy. Larson and his staff will recommend a steering committee to the DDA to assist with fashioning that strategy and help with reviewing any proposals that may be submitted.

“Right now, this is an opportunity for us to shape a vision we can control,” said Larson.

DDA Chairman Brian Harris said the work will give the board a better insight into how to relate to developers when they approach the DDA with a project. DDA Vice Chairwoman Kayem Dunn felt the information gleaned from the upcoming effort should increase the value of the sites the board owns. Larson said the strategy could be developed for $50,000.

The DDA currently controls the Area 4 lot directly behind the arena on Oakes Avenue SE, the Area 1 lot on Ottawa Avenue SE, and the Area 6 lot on Cherry Street SE just east of Grandville Avenue.

“These properties have remarkable potential and are tremendously valuable to our city-building movement,” said Larson. “Our goal is to engage the community in a conversation about our strategic priorities for these sites and the critical role they will play in the future of the district.”

Larson said other properties may come into play as the plan progresses. He also noted that another DDA lot, Area 5, which is adjacent to Area 4, was being considered for development.

Jackson Entertainment LLC approached the board about developing the lot in April with a proposal to invest $8.5 million into a 60,000-square-foot entertainment facility that would include a multi-screen movie theater. The firm has since bought a two-year option on the site for $50,000.

Larson said the negotiation sessions between the developer and city staff regarding the project have been many and are ongoing. But he felt the current process was “cumbersome” for both sides and the development of a new strategy for the sector would improve that method by addressing such matters as building “height, scale and massing, while also examining issues related to preferred land uses, ground-floor activation and urban-design controls.”

This effort will become the third study the DDA has engaged in recently and it will come on the heels of a mobility study and extensive retail study the board approved.

DDA board member Elissa Hillary said a draft report of the retail study conducted by the Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham this summer has been reviewed and a few questions have been asked about its findings.

Hillary wondered what would happen to parking in the sector if the lots are developed. “Businesses are relying on parking in the area,” she said.

The DDA also committed up to $75,000 last week to the first stage of repairing the snowmelt system on Monroe Center, which was installed in 1997. City Engineer Marc DeClercq said some leaks have been detected in the section of the system that runs from Ottawa to Division avenues.

“We have a pretty big one in front of the police station,” he said. “We also need to bleed out some of the air in the system before we can start.”

The first-phase work will get underway soon and should finish in December. More work is expected to be done this winter and next year and include the entire system from Monroe Avenue to Division.

Board members also authorized tax-increment reimbursements totaling $806,111 last week through development agreements the DDA made with 10 downtown projects that are now completed, such as The Gallery on Fulton, Thirty-Eight and The Pyramid Scheme. The 10 projects generated more than $1 million in tax-increment revenue, as property values increased once the developments were finished.

“Right now, it looks like everything is going out,” said Dunn of the report. “Without the projects, the taxable value would be very low. I’d like to see that number.”

Harris said the next reimbursement report should also include the gains the DDA has made from development agreements.

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