People can access the site at www.downtowngr.org to find specific types of businesses or individual businesses located in the Downtown Improvement District (DID), said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Downtown Alliance.
Also, district businesses that have Web sites will be able to have links to their Web pages from the Downtown Alliance site.
“We think it will help market our businesses,” Evoy said.
The Downtown Alliance, a program of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, carries out enhanced maintenance and beautification services funded by district-wide special assessments.
Crowe Chizek and Co., a local CPA firm, donated its services to create the site. Robert Herr, partner in charge at Crowe Chizek, also serves on the board of the Downtown Alliance.
Andy Carpenter, a project manager for the firm who serves on the Downtown Alliance’s marketing board, said his company considers the donation a giveback to the community.
The company is hosting the site on its own server and will provide ongoing maintenance of the site.
“It’s going to grow and it will require care and feeding,” Carpenter said. “It will continue to evolve and the services will only get better. We’re leaving it very, very open for people to have input and also to have the members impact how this grows and expands.”
He said the group evaluated a few dozen downtown improvement district sites across the country as part of the process.
“The way we felt was important to differentiate this downtown area was to create a structure and begin to develop a search mechanism that would allow you to pull up things in different ways other than just by a company name.
“In general what we have allowed in the first phase is for people to plug in a good description of the things that their business provides. You can’t get that in a typical search or in a standard directory structure.”
Thus, the site’s design allows people to do keyword searches based on the special characteristics of a particular company or the products and services a particular retailer provides.
Dennis Sturtevant, executive director of Dwelling Place Inc. and chair of the Downtown Alliance Board, said the Web site adds value for members of the downtown improvement district and the community at large because it offers businesses and organizations here direct access worldwide via the Internet.
“Finding new ways to promote the downtown and our members has been an important goal for the Alliance,” Sturtevant stated.
“This new Web site is one more way the Alliance can offer improved information access and communication between our members, residents, visitors and others interested in what a great place downtown is becoming.”
In an effort to further promote the downtown area, this summer the Alliance is serving as a nonprofit co-sponsor of three concert series staged by three different organizations at Rosa Parks Circle.
On Wednesday evenings it’s the long-standing WLAV Blues on the Mall series. On Thursday evenings it’s contemporary gospel music, courtesy of local churches. On Friday nights it’s the WGRD Friday Night Live featuring alternative pop and rock.
Evoy said the hope is that an eclectic mix of musical offerings and the marketing of those events by the three organizations involved will draw in some people who haven’t been downtown in a while and haven’t checked out some of its bars, restaurants and coffee houses as yet.
Maintenance and beautification of the downtown area, however, remain the Alliance’s focus and the primary goal of property owners footing the bill through special assessments, she said.
Maintenance and beautification take up two-thirds of the organization’s budget.
“We’re real focused and real clear on what we want to do in terms of maintenance and beautification. We know we want downtown to look better than it ever has,” Evoy said.
“We’re trying to feel our way around what we want to do in the future in regards to promotion of the downtown area. With events, the board is going through a process to decide what our role will be.”
What the Alliance doesn’t have is a lot of resources and staff time that it can commit to putting on events, she said.
“With the three concert series, what we’ve been able to do is offer some assistance to these organizations for them to do what they do best.”