The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board of Directors today recommended a long-term financing plan to support the community’s vision of building a vibrant Downtown neighborhood with high-quality public parks, a riverfront recreation trail, more mobility and housing options and economic opportunity for people from all walks of life.

The plan also proposes several key policy changes to strengthen community partnerships and advance on shared priorities. These include:

  • Prioritizing investment in affordable housing and minority business development;
  • Eliminating DDA capture of future voter-approved “special” property taxes, including the currently proposed millage to support the Grand Rapids Public Museum and John Ball Zoo; and
  • Expanding the DDA boundary in targeted areas to support the growth of Downtown Grand Rapids.

“The proposed plan is intentionally designed to keep moving GR Forward,” said Kristopher Larson, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc, which administers the DDA on behalf of the people of metro Grand Rapids. “The plan is an expression of our aspiration to continually enhance our focus, collaboration and accountability around our collective goal of accelerating Downtown Grand Rapid’s transition to a best-in-class American city.”

The DDA’s so-called Development and Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Plan, required by state law, establishes the purposes and practices which guide how the DDA collects and uses revenues to catalyze investment in its district. The plan must be approved by City Commission and, among other things, identify the boundary of the district and estimate the financial effect on taxing jurisdictions such as Kent County, Grand Rapids Community College and the Rapid regional transit authority.

The Grand Rapids Development and TIF Plan was first established in 1980 and has experienced 15 updates, most recently in 2007. The current proposed update (PDF) will align the plan with GR Forward, the community vision and investment strategy adopted in December 2015 by the Grand Rapids City Commission as an amendment to the City’s Master Plan.

Key Proposed Changes

In addition to basic city building and place management activities, the Plan update proposes four targeted boundary expansions to enable the DDA to more actively advance the recommendations and goals of GR Forward. More specifically:

  • Boundary expansion along the Grand River would permit the DDA to consider partnering in riverfront trail building and other activities that restore the river as the central amenity in the urban core.
  • Boundary expansion to the north would permit the DDA to consider partnering in the development of a linear park on Ionia Avenue and Switchback Park on the western face of Belknap Hill.
  • Boundary expansion to the west would permit the DDA to consider partnering in the development of Interchange Park under 131 and the Ford Freeway.
  • Boundary expansion to the south would permit the DDA to consider partnering in redevelopment adjacent to the Downtown Market.

The Plan update affirms the DDA’s commitment to building a more diverse and welcoming Downtown. The Plan, for example, allows the DDA to support efforts that foster more racially and ethnically diverse business ownership. The proposal, for the first time, also expressly enables the DDA to prioritize investment in affordable housing to deliver a wider range of residential choices for people with different needs and budgets.

The Plan update also upholds the community’s commitment to advance good government reform of the DDA tool. The Plan, for example, continues and aims to ramp up the DDA’s gain sharing program that provides annual financial rebates to taxing jurisdictions that continue to partner in growing Downtown.

The Plan also includes a provision that directs the DDA to forego the capture of any “special” property taxes voters approve after November 7, 2016.

“Voters don’t go to the polls to raise taxes for DDA’s,” Larson said. “They go to the polls to consider the merits of specific investments in our children, veterans, senior citizens, emergency services or the specifically defined community priority of the day. Eliminating DDA capture of these special voter-approved initiatives is simply the right thing to do.”

The state House of Representatives also is considering legislation to, among other things, eliminate the ability of DDA’s to capture future special millages. Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. supports this effort.

With the approval of the DDA Board, the Plan update now proceeds to the City Commission, which will consider setting a formal public hearing to solicit community feedback on the proposal. Upon establishment of the public hearing, the City and the DDA will notify all land owners and taxing jurisdictions with the DDA district of the public consultation process. To proactively initiate this process, DDA staff has already begun discussion with such partners and stakeholders as Kent County, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Community College, the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority as well as the Westside and North Quarter Corridor Improvement Districts.

Participatory Process Schedule

  • February 10, 2016 – Steering Committee Established
  • April 20, 2016 – Steering Committee Meeting
  • July 15, 2016 – Steering Committee Meeting
  • August 17, 2016 – Downtown Grand Rapids Inc Board of Advisors recommends amending DDA Development and TIF Plan to forego capture of special millages approved after November 7, 2016.
  • August 18 and 19 – Steering Committee Tours of Potential Expansion Areas
  • September 14, 2016 – DDA Board Update on TIF Plan
  • September 19, 2016 – Steering Committee Review of Draft Plan
  • October 5, 2016 – Steering Committee Approval of Final Plan
  • November 9, 2016 – DDA Approves and recommends Plan to the City Commission
  • November 15, 2016 – City Commission Sets the Public Hearing and Introduces the Ordinance
  • November 15, 2016 (Not Later Than) – Notices Sent and Publicly Posted
  • December 6, 2016 – Public Hearing
  • December 6 or 13, 2016 – City Commission Approval of Ordinance
  • December 7 or 14, 2016 – Approved ordinance filed with Secretary of State and published in newspaper of record