Traverse City News and Events

DDA Scraps Parking Deck from New TIF Plan

By Beth Milligan | March 2, 2024

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members agreed Friday to remove a third downtown parking deck from a proposed new tax increment financing (TIF) 97 plan, called Moving Downtown Forward. Other downtown projects – like improvements to the Lower Boardman River, farmers market, and Rotary Square – seem to have stronger community backing than a deck at this time, board members said, not wanting to risk its inclusion possibly torpedoing support for the rest of Moving Downtown Forward.

Board members reviewed a final draft of the TIF plan Friday ahead of a March 15 DDA vote to adopt it. The plan – which was approved Wednesday by a state-mandated citizen council of residents who live in the TIF district – will be presented to city commissioners for an introduction on April 1. That will be followed by a public hearing and possible city commission vote to approve the plan on May 6.

DDA board members reviewed feedback from the citizens’ group as they finalized a draft of what projects will be included in Moving Downtown Forward. The DDA is looking to rename and extend the TIF 97 plan – which covers the core of downtown Traverse City and is set to expire at the end of 2027 – by another 30 years. TIF districts capture taxes on rising property values within their boundaries to fund public improvement projects, ranging from stormwater and sewer upgrades to bridge, sidewalk, and streetscaping improvements to public parks and placemaking projects. However, those projects must be named in the TIF plan in order to be funded.

Many of those projects in the coming decades – like over $57 million in riverfront improvements over the next 30 years, $15 million for district-wide heated sidewalks, $4.5 million in farmers market improvements, and $7 million for Rotary Square – seem to have stronger support than a controversial $67.7 million mixed-use development on the west side of downtown, board members felt. That proposed development has three major components, including a 534-space parking deck ($32.4 million) and two mixed-use buildings featuring a combination of retail space and rental apartments (more than $33 million for both buildings, with additional expenses for site and utility work).

Supporting “affordable, attainable housing was very important to all nine members” on the citizen council, DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said. But the group was much more scrutinous of the parking deck component, including reviewing usage at downtown’s existing two decks. DDA Transportation Mobility Director Nicole VanNess acknowledged there’s still parking availability in the Hardy and Old Town decks today, though said that may not be the case five years from now as more and more developments come online.

That prompted DDA board members to question whether – even if a third deck might be needed in the future – it’s the right project for downtown now, especially if including it in a new TIF plan might sour support for Moving Downtown Forward. Mayor Amy Shamroe said the deck has “been leading the conversation” about the new plan even though it’s not a top priority among residents. “There’s a list of things we know the public wants to see movement on, and then there’s the deck,” she said. Board member Katy Bertodatto said that if demand for a deck changed in the future, the TIF plan could be amended through a public process to include it (TIF 97 was amended multiple times over its nearly 30-year run). But for now, “let’s not risk a good plan over that,” she said.

Board member Scott Hardy questioned scrapping the deck given that numerous projects in Moving Downtown Forward – like redesigning the riverfront – will require eliminating other parking spaces downtown. The city has promised for years to make up those spaces in a new deck, he said.

However, other board members said the need for parking might need to be more keenly felt before the public supports building another deck. “Parking will become a pain point for the community” at some point, board member Pete Kirkwood said, at which time residents themselves might become advocates for building more spaces rather than the DDA “selling people something they’re not excited about.” And if that doesn’t happen – if public support never emerges for a third deck – the DDA will have avoided an “expensive mistake,” Kirkwood said.

Housing is still a funding category in Moving Downtown Forward and will be increased, which could at least allow the rental apartments phase of the west-end development to be explored. Funds for general parking maintenance and enhancement throughout downtown will also be included. The revised draft doesn’t eliminate “the idea the DDA can partner on parking solutions,” DDA Board Chair Gabe Schneider said, whether on the west side or other areas of downtown. The city already owns the multiple parcels at Pine and State streets planned for the deck, which – in addition to housing – could be explored for other interim uses, Shamroe said, such as repaving and restriping some areas for surface parking.

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