Traverse City News and Events

DDA Plans for Upcoming Downtown Projects

By Beth Milligan | April 17, 2023

The Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is eyeing several key projects for the next year as it puts together its 2023-24 budget, including replacing the Midtown riverwalk, improving Hannah Park, redesigning the Eighth Street intersections at Cass and Union, entering a new services agreement with the city, and upgrading downtown’s community police officer to a full-time position. That’s in addition to planned work on two major projects already announced, the transformation of the Boardman River riverfront along the Front Street alley and the construction of a third public parking deck.

DDA CEO Jean Derenzy walked board members through the first look at the 2023-24 budget in a study session Friday. The budget will be discussed again this coming Friday at the DDA’s regular board meeting, followed by a public hearing on May 19. The budget is then approved by both board members and city commissioners in June. Traverse City’s fiscal year runs July 1-June 30.

The DDA budget is structured around two tax increment financing (TIF) districts: the Old Town TIF (formerly TIF 2), which covers Old Town, River’s Edge and Midtown, and TIF 97, which covers the core area of downtown (including Front Street and the Warehouse District). Taxes are captured on increasing property values within those districts to pay for public improvement projects, serving as the main funding source for downtown maintenance and enhancement. The model is intended to provide a regional funding stream for projects in Grand Traverse County’s urban core, rather than those projects being funded solely by city taxpayers. (How long such plans should last and whether regional partners have an obligation to support downtown is a source of ongoing discussion).

According to Derenzy, the Old Town TIF “continues to see steady growth and opportunity.” The district is projected to generate $841,481 in revenue in the upcoming year, based on a taxable value of just over $33 million. Derenzy highlighted several projects planned for the Old Town area, including the replacement of the Midtown riverwalk. The riverwalk is over 20 years old, and replacing it will likely be a two-year project. Derenzy said the DDA waited until the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan was complete before proceeding so that the new riverwalk’s material and design would be “consistent” with the plan and with other riverfront areas downtown.

The DDA also hopes to make improvements to Hannah Park. With the current reconstruction of the Union Street bridge, Derenzy said there’s an opportunity to “look at the bridge as a highlight and placemaking element” and to improve its connection to Hannah Park. That includes additional infrastructure at the street level to enhance the pedestrian overlook of the Boardman River and Hannah Park, as well as upgrading the staircase leading from the overlook to the riverbank. The Old Town TIF budget also calls for upgrading the Eighth Street intersections at Cass and Union streets. “They’re crumbling, they need repair,” Derenzy said. She added that the goal was to improve the intersections to more closely resemble the wider intersections seen at State/Union and State/Cass.

Other projects – like paying for a new city services agreement that will better clarify which services the city provides versus the DDA, such as trash collection – will be funded by both the Old Town and TIF 97 districts. Same goes for plans to split costs with property owners to install more snowmelt systems in both districts, as well as dedicating funds for implementing the city’s new mobility action plan. Derenzy said it was important that as the DDA financially invests in studies like the mobility action plan, it also puts “some dollars aside for implementation” so studies don’t just end up sitting on a shelf.

Implementation dollars are also included in the TIF 97 budget for extending the downtown TART Trail – currently in design – and redesigning the riverfront as part of the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan. DDA board members recently supported using a request-for-proposals (RFP) process to find design and engineering services for both the reconstruction of the riverfront between Union and Park streets and the construction of a third public parking deck on State Street. Advancing those two “transformational” projects will be a key focus for TIF 97 this next year, Derenzy said. TIF 97 is expected to generate over $4.3 million in revenue next year on a taxable value of $162.8 million. DDA board members previously stated that moving from design to actual construction on projects like the parking deck will require bonding costs and extending TIF 97 beyond its 2027 expiration.

The 2023-24 DDA budget also includes funds for professional services, including a contract with Traverse Connect for economic development and with the Traverse City Police Department for a downtown community police officer (CPO). Derenzy is recommending upgrading the CPO to a full-time position this year and dedicating a small section of the former Scalawags space (which is city-owned) for a CPO office.

Multiple DDA board members said they thought the CPO relationship was a valuable and successful one, though some questioned the need to have dedicated office space for a CPO downtown at the DDA’s cost instead of using the officer’s existing space at the TCPD station on Woodmere Avenue. Board members will likely continue that discussion at future upcoming budget meetings. Derenzy also noted the DDA is working with a realtor to clean up the rest of the Scalawags space and put it back on the market for lease with the hopes of securing another restaurant for the space.

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