Can DDA Save Fireworks

    GRAND RAPIDS — With Fourth of July fireworks for now kaput, and the fate of flagship events like Festival of the Arts and Celebration on the Grand increasingly uncertain, the city’s Downtown Development Authority is forging a plan that could lend some support to organizers.

    “I’m not sure we want to play that role, but I’m afraid we’re going to need to,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler. “I think downtown without people here having fun is going to be a huge loss.”

    Until months ago, the city’s office of special events supported roughly 150 events of various scope and scale. The city co-sponsored 24 events, 17 of those in the downtown development district. That office, part of the parks and recreation department, was written out of this year’s budget.

    Fowler said he believes that some city agency should have oversight over all these events, if only to make the city aware of who is using its property.

    Of larger concern, however, is supporting the 14 major events held downtown each year — including the Fourth of July celebration organizers abandoned last week, citing a $100,000 fundraising shortfall.

    “This is a large part of the vitality of the city and downtown,” Fowler said. “We pay nothing for entertainment, nothing for set-up, yet these events bring hundreds of thousands of people downtown each year. …We can play a significant role in this.”

    The authority is currently working on a proposal that could place it in a limited support role for the city’s events. A complicated issue, the proposal would expand its role in a manner that tests the legal and philosophical boundaries of the authority.

    In large part, this discussion stems from an influx of cash recently awarded the DDA as part of a multifaceted loan settlement with Eenhoorn-Springlake LP. The company that owns the commercial portion of Plaza Towers — the former Eastbank Towers — at 11 Monroe St. NW, recently agreed to repair Michael Singer’s River’s Edge Environmental Sculpture and the surrounding portion of the riverwalk, and maintain both for 15 years.

    In return for relieving the city of those duties, the DDA agreed to discount the $4 million second mortgage the board and city has held on the property since 1988 to $2 million.

    The DDA will receive $1.66 million of that settlement.

    State law limits the DDA to only using non-increment tax dollars to fund the events; the payment from Eenhoorn-Springlake meets that standard. Parking fees traditionally represent the bulk of revenue of that type, another possible funding source.

    Fowler noted that events represent the only time many residents ever come downtown, but it is difficult to find direct economic gain from visibility alone.

    “There are businesses that would just as soon we not have any events,” Fowler said.

    He said that some businesses, like restaurants and bars, see some benefit, and retail does to a lesser extent. Office and commercial tenants see virtually no direct benefit.    

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