Traverse City News and Events

DDA Talks CEO Search, Project Updates, Marketing Outreach

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 20, 2024

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members gave the green light Friday to start the search process for a new CEO, approved a contract for a new composting program and reviewed other project updates, and discussed new marketing and communications plans – including to bring people downtown during the upcoming Grandview Parkway reconstruction.

CEO Search
On the heels of DDA CEO Jean Derenzy (pictured) announcing she will leave her position when her contract expires at the end of February, DDA board members approved a plan Friday to begin looking for a new CEO.

The board’s governance committee came to Friday’s meeting with a recommendation to hire Amy Cell Talent to lead the search process. That firm was hired by the City of Traverse City recently to lead the search for a new city manager and is also helping the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department find its new fire chief. The DDA’s contract cost was estimated at $19,500, the same amount the city paid Amy Cell Talent for its manager search.

While some DDA board members supported the recommendation and felt the firm’s familiarity with the city would help expedite a CEO search, others wanted to at least review proposals from other firms before proceeding. Mayor Amy Shamroe said other firms might have more experience in looking for a DDA leader “specifically,” though added she’d been pleased working with Amy Cell Talent before and had no objections if the company was selected after other proposals were considered. Shamroe noted the city typically uses a request-for-proposals (RFP) process for the purposes of transparency and obtaining competitive bids, though DDA attorney Scott Howard said that policy carves out exceptions – including for the “employment of professional services.”

Board members ultimately settled on a compromise to keep the process moving and still review other firms. The board approved having the governance committee issue a request-for-information (RFI) – a faster process than an RFP that will allow the committee to consider general proposals and quotes from other companies – and to select and hire a firm at a cost not to exceed $30,000. The governance committee can meet more frequently than the DDA board – which only has a regular meeting once a month – and thus can keep the process moving forward, board members agreed. The city’s HR department will also assist in the process, according to the approved motion.

Projects
After discussion at several prior meetings, DDA board members approved a contract with SEEDS Friday for $21,674 to launch a six-month pilot composting program for approximately 10-20 downtown restaurants. “As a guiding principle, services connecting businesses with climate-friendly solutions, such as composting, is a unique mechanism for the DDA to engage both the business community and downtown visitors in meaningful ways where both constituents can learn simple measures to care for the environment," according to project documents. SEEDS will be hauling the compost material and processing it at its location at the Historic Barns Park. However, if the program is successful and extended – and/or if the material collected is too much for SEEDS – that could eventually shift to using a subcontractor for collection and processing it at the city’s new composting site, which is being installed soon as part of a separate city pilot program for waste reduction.

DDA board members discussed other project updates Friday. Derenzy said reconstruction on the intersection of Eighth and Union streets will likely begin in late April or early May. The goal is to get the intersection done this fiscal year – which ends June 30 – but will mean the intersection will likely be down at least three weeks during the Grandview Parkway reconstruction. Derenzy said the DDA would be coordinating with city engineering staff and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) on how detours will work during that project.

The DDA is hoping to host a joint study session with the city commission on February 12 to review new cost estimates for the planned mixed-use parking development near the corner of State and Pine streets. The city has received a $900,000 state grant for demolition and clean-up work on the site to prepare it for new construction. A new retail incubator at the corner of Cass and Front streets had a successful pop-up event in December, with another pop-up event to come in February ahead of a planned April grand opening. Finally, the DDA is gearing up for discussions among its mobility/parking and finance committees for possible parking rate hikes after receiving condition reports on the Hardy and Old Town parking decks, which show nearly $2.5 million in repairs needed between both decks within the next five years. Any rate hike recommendations – and contracts for repairs – will ultimately come to the DDA board for review and approval.

Marketing/Communications
Finally, DDA board members heard an update Friday from Greenlight Marketing – one of two firms hired to assist downtown with communications and marketing. Greenlight has been hired for general DDA communications work and branding initiatives, while Bright Spark Strategies – which will present to the board in February – was hired for the development of education tools for TIF 97.

Greenlight representatives walked board members through several new branding concepts for downtown, with an emphasis on bold colors and playful imagery and new logos for events like Traverse City Restaurant Week and Shop Your Community Day. The firm is focused now on creating detour signs and campaign messages to help direct traffic downtown during the Grandview Parkway reconstruction, set to start in March and last through the fall. That messaging includes directional signage along detour routes – with phrases like “We’re worth the detour” and “Construction is temporary, memories are forever” – along with contests and prize giveaways at downtown businesses.

The DDA plans to partner with BATA on bus wraps (with messages like “Your Connection to Downtown” and “Work or Play, Shop or Dine, We’ll Take You Downtown”) and communicating transportation options during construction, with BATA set to appear at the board’s February meeting for more discussion. While the DDA is not responsible for the Parkway reconstruction – it’s an MDOT project – its significant impact on downtown will require the DDA to play a proactive role, including sending out weekly communications with construction updates and detour news, board members agreed.

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