DDA finds itself ahead

Although the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority has a few more steps to take to finish its Framework Plan, one aspect of the six-month effort has ended. The online survey, which invited the public to comment on what directions downtown should take, is done, and the results show that the DDA already has been heading in those directions for the past few years.

Improve the shopping selection, create a cohesive strategic plan and make the Grand River cleaner while providing better access to it were the top three actions the public felt the board needs to take downtown over the next five to 10 years.

The DDA began an effort to draw more retail downtown in 2008 and continues that effort today. The board set up a planning taskforce last year to map out a future strategy for the district. The DDA also has approved a number of initiatives over the last few years for the river and properties along its banks, such as the $559,000 upgrade it made to Ah-Nab-Awen Park this summer.

“We must be doing something right,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler in response to the results. “In general, I think it gives us a stronger mandate to do those things.”

The public’s next four choices were to improve parking and make it more affordable, encourage more art and cultural facilities, make downtown friendlier for bicycles and pedestrians, and have better transit serve the district. Creating more downtown housing finished ninth on the list of the public’s 13 priorities.

Of the more than 1,100 people who took the survey, two-thirds said they wanted to receive further information on the DDA’s plan and on any other improvements planned for the district, which indicates many have a strong interest in downtown.

“I thought it was a good level of participation to get over 1,100 people giving us their opinions. So we’re quite happy with these results, as with the participation at the open houses,” said Fowler.

Those between the ages of 25 and 34 made up the largest demographic group that took the survey, at 33 percent. “That was interesting,” said Fowler, “and I think a hopeful sign.”

That group was closely followed by those in the 35-to-49 age range, at 31 percent. Both groups are the primary targets of marketing efforts by retailers, restaurant owners, the Downtown Alliance and the DDA, and are likely downtown’s best potential customers.

Slightly more than half of the respondents said they worked or lived downtown. About 3.5 percent of the responses came from downtown property owners. The district’s business owners accounted for 5 percent of those who responded to the survey. Forty-five percent of all respondents said they’ve had an interest in downtown for more than a decade.

The study’s last invitation-only work group will be held Tuesday. “But a similar discussion will be held at the DDA board meeting on Dec. 8,” said Fowler. “And then we will be having another open house in January for the general public to be able to respond to the recommendations of the Framework Plan at that time.”

The open house is scheduled for Jan. 11 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. Two 90-minute sessions will be held with the first beginning at 8 a.m. and the second starting at 5:30 p.m. Progressive Urban Management Associates, the study’s consultant, will reveal its findings from the Framework Plan at both sessions. It will also offer recommendations for future initiatives and investments in downtown.

The public wants more retail downtown

By a fairly wide margin, the public wants the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority to focus its resources on drawing more retail to the district to improve the shopping experience. That response, which came from an online survey the DDA conducted as part of its Framework Plan, easily outdrew a dozen other suggestions. Here are the 13 action items the public listed as priorities.

Public Priority
Improve shopping selection
Create a cohesive strategic plan
Clean up Grand River/improve access
Improve parking/more affordable
Encourage art and cultural facilities
More pedestrian and bike friendly
Better transit
Build a positive identity
Increase residential development
Improve public safety
Enhance pedestrian environment
Improve communications between public and private sectors
Increase active greenspace








Note: Total response percentage is 100.1% due to rounding. 155 survey respondents did not answer this question.

Source: Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, November 2010.

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