Madison Square looks to rebrand as Southtown


City of Grand Rapids officials agreed to hold public hearings at 7 p.m., Dec. 8, to discuss an amendment to the existing Madison Square Corridor Improvement District boundaries, and upon approval, to consider an amendment to the Tax Increment Financing Plan and Development Plan.

The first public hearing would consider expanding the Madison CID boundaries along Madison Avenue and Hall Street to add Alger Heights, Boston Square, Division South, Franklin/Eastern and Seymour Square neighborhood business areas to form a single collaborative district known as Southtown.

If approved and designated a qualified development area, the second public hearing would consider amending the development and TIF plans regarding the Madison Square Improvement Authority’s planned projects for improvement, procedure and estimated cost, and intended methods of finance.

While the current TIF district contains nearly 96 property parcels, the amount of funding the Madison Square Corridor Improvement Authority has been able to secure to support the area has declined as property values fell below the 2010 initial assessed value, according to the amendment request. Although the Madison Square CIA collected more than $3,300 in tax increment financing in FY2012, and nearly $1,000 in FY2013, there was not any TIF revenue collected in FY2014 and FY2015.

Jorge Gonzalez, board member of the Madison Square CIA, said the bottom line is there is power in numbers, and the amendment to the district boundaries would grow the number of parcels from about 96 to more than 800.

“We were not collecting any tax revenue because property value has declined,” said Gonzalez. “With the expansion and joining other business districts, we are going up to more than 800 parcels, and that is definitely going to increase our tax base and therefore our tax increment financing.”

The proposed Southtown district would have about 827 real properties, comprised of 53 percent commercial, 22 percent industrial, 10 percent residential and 15 percent governmental or nonprofit based.

The combined 2015 assessed taxable value of all the properties is approximately $45 million.

Gonzalez said the board has been meeting regularly and invited a number of interested parties and other organizations to discuss the possibility of amending the boundaries.

“It has been a collective effort of many organizations and even residents that are interested in making sure we are branding what is going to be the new Southtown,” said Gonzalez. “When you think of other districts, like Uptown, they also have a huge amount of numbers, which gives them greater power in terms of working together to improve the business district.”

City Commissioner Senita Lenear, who also serves as a board member for the Madison Square CIA, said there has been a lot of engagement from the other districts, which are planning a mixer to introduce the idea during the public comment period.

“Those other business districts will have an opportunity to weigh in on it in more of a social setting,” said Lenear. “We are excited about this possibility. This will be a healthy change for the district.”

City Commissioner and Mayor-Elect Rosalynn Bliss said she appreciated all the work that has gone into the proposed changes.

“I have been concerned about the CID because of the lack of fund accrual, so I think this is a good step forward,” said Bliss. “I think it addresses a lot of concerns I have heard over the past couple of years. I think this is really positive.”

The Madison Square Development and Tax Increment Financing Plan amendment request indicated the development plan for the Southtown district would follow a “Main Street based committee method of corridor organizing” when evaluating projects.

The types of projects would be classified as: design; economic restructuring, or identifying new business investment and providing support to existing stakeholders; organization, or engaging volunteers and coordinating with other entities; and promotions and marketing, such as communicating neighborhood opportunities internally and externally.

If the amendments to the boundaries and district plans are approved, Gonzalez said the outcome would be to make Southtown a unique area for shopping, visiting and having fun.

“As we continue to make Grand Rapids the place to be — we are number one in a lot of different national surveys — we want Southtown to be a destination,” said Gonzalez. “Whether it is special gift shops, or special retail, or something unique to Southtown, we are going to be able to offer an inviting place — a destination.”

The Madison Square CID and its Authority was established in 2009 with a purpose to “correct and prevent deterioration,” encourage historic preservation and promote economic growth, according to the 2010 Madison Square CIA development and TIF plan. 

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